ALMA — Patience, small ball, aggressive base-running and a willingness to get bruised helped the Bryant Hornets sweep a 7A/6A-Central Conference doubleheader against the Alma Airedales Friday night. Good pitching by a trio of Hornet hurlers helped too as the Hornets won 7-0 and 9-3 to improve to 17-2 overall this season and 4-2 in the league going into a showdown on Tuesday at Van Buren.
In fact, junior lefty Evan Lee fired a four-hit shutout in the opener. In the second contest, junior right-hander Alex Shurtleff surrendered seven hits but every time the Airedales threatened, he worked his way out of the jams, minimizing the damage. Senior lefty Jason Hastings ended the night by striking out the side.
“I thought Evan did an outstanding job,” said Bryant head coach Kirk Bock. “I thought Shurt was a little shaky in the first couple of innings but then he came in and he closed out good. He made an adjustment in his mechanics and it worked out for him well. Then, when stuff starts working, he starts getting some confidence.
“He didn’t have a lot of confidence, really in his last three outings,” the coach noted. “But tonight I think he turned a corner a little bit. Hastings is the same way. I think he came in with confidence and he threw strikes.”
The patience of Bryant’s batters produced five walks in the first game and 12 more in the second. As for the small ball, six consecutive bunts in the fourth inning helped produce three runs while three well-executed bunts played key roles in a pair of big innings in the nightcap.
They stole eight bases in the second game but also picked up extra bases and forced Alma miscues with their aggressiveness on the base-paths (Alma committed five errors in the 9-3 contest.)
Oh, and to go with the 17 walks in those 14 innings, the Hornets were struck by Alma pitches six times.
“We took advantage of some mistakes they made,” Bock acknowledged. “They walked some people. We got some timely hits. Our quality at-bats were at 62 percent; 60 percent’s the goal. A lot of that was them walking us but I thought we did a lot better job.”
Lee struck out 12 and walked just two in the opener. After giving up a one-out single in the first, he set down 10 in a row. He worked around a walk and a double with one out in the fourth, overcame a one-out pass in the fifth and a one-out single in the sixth.
In the seventh, an error, a single and another error, had runners at second and third with no one out. But Lee preserved the shutout by striking out the next three to end the game.
Bryant took a 1-0 lead in the third when, with two down, Brandan Warner beat out an infield hit and Trey Breeding walked. Lee hit a grounder to short but a wild throw kept the inning alive as Warner scored the game’s first run.
In the second, the Hornets put on a bunting clinic. Dylan Hurt drew a lead-off walk then the bunting commenced. Connor Tatum beat out his for a single then Hastings’ bunt resulted in two Alma fielders getting in each other’s way. Hurt, hustling all the way, scored from second on the play and Hastings had a hit.
The next bunt was Drew Tipton’s. It loaded the bases for Warner, who bunted. Alma went for the play at the plate but Tatum slid in safely under the tag to make it 3-0.
When Breeding bunted, the Airedales tried to turn it into a doubleplay but only got a force at second as Hastings crossed the plate. With Warner at third, Lee bunted to the first baseman Dillon Majors. He threw home and on a very close play, Warner was tagged out. Blake Patterson flew out to right to send it to the bottom of the fourth, 4-0.
“That’s one of the things that’s been missing the last couple of games,” said Bock. “And, really, it’s just the opportunities for the short game. We’ve got to be in the right situations to use it. Just about every one of those, the kids read. We didn’t call anything. They just read it and went.”
In the fifth, Alma’s lefty starter Frank Griffin got one out but then plunked Hurt, Tatum and Hastings consecutively. After a pitching change, Tipton greeted Judah Dean with a sacrifice fly to make it 5-0. Tatum tagged and went to third while Hastings stayed at first. But when Hastings swiped second and drew an errant throw, Tatum trotted home.
Moments later, Dean unleashed a wild throw allowing Hastings to score the game’s final run.
In the second game, the bottom third of the batting order continued to be right in the middle of much of the scoring. It was Hurt, Tatum and Hastings in the first contest. In the second, it was Hurt, Tatum and Logan Allen.
In a four-run second, Patterson walked and Garrett Misenheimer singled to center. When the ball was booted, they wound up at second and third. A wild pitch allowed Patterson to score as Misenheimer went to third. A walk to Hurt led to a squeeze play in which Tatum got the bunt down and Misenheimer scored.
With Hurt at second, Allen sacrificed him to third and, after Tipton walked and stole second, Warner cracked a two-run single to right-center.
Shurtleff retired seven of the first eight batters he faced, working around a first-inning error.
With one out in the third, Logan Been singled, went to second on a wild pitch, third on a base hit by Drake Penderfraft. With runners at the corners, Dean hit a two-hopper towards Patterson, who was drawn in at first. Patterson made a sparkling play on the ball and got a throw to Hurt at short for a force. And the Hornets nearly turned a spectacular inning-ending doubleplay but, on the return throw to first, Hurt and Shurtleff missed connections. Been scored on the play and Dean wound up at second.
Evan Burris singled Dean to third then Dylan Brown’s base hit made it 4-2. But Shurtleff hung in and got Majors to ground into a force at second to keep it a two-run game.
That started a stretch in which the right-hander retired seven in a row.
In the meantime, the Hornets expanded the lead to 8-2. In the fourth, Hurt and Tatum walked, which led to a pitching change. Keesler Nye relieved starter Blake Yates and got the first out only to walk Tipton and hit Warner, forcing in a run.
In the sixth, Tatum drew a one-out walk, stole second and took third on an errant throw. Allen got a bunt down that not only drove in Tatum, it went for a hit as Nye finally got to the ball down the first-base line. His throw hit Allen in the back as he crossed the bag. That enabled him to take second.
Allen swiped third as Tipton drew a walk, leading to another pitching change. Kyle McKeown took over and, with Warner at the plate, Tipton started to steal second and drew a throw. Allen sprinted home and beat the return throw. Tipton slid into second safely before the catcher’s throw back.
Warner flew out to right as Tipton tagged and came to third. Breeding was then hit by a pitch. Jake East came in as a courtesy runner for the Bryant catcher. He left early and got into a rundown that enabled him to reach second and Tipton to score when Alma second baseman Josh Parker dropped a throw.
The Airedales chipped a run off the lead and threatened to get more in the home sixth. Singles by Burris, Majors and McKeown produced a run then, with two down, an error allowing Parker to reach loaded the bases.
But Shurtleff set down Been with his sixth strikeout to keep it 8-3.
In the top of the seventh, Patterson, Hurt and Tatum drew walks. When the count went to 2-0 on Allen, Lane Caldwell became the fourth Alma pitcher. After taking a strike, Allen launched a deep fly to center for a sacrifice fly that set the final score.
Hastings closed it out in the bottom of the seventh.