Clutch hits, bulldog pitching lift Hornets past Panthers

CABOT — Walks will burn you. It seems like they invariably come around to score. At best, they extend a pitcher’s pitch count. At worst, they lead to big innings.

Walks issued by Cabot Panthers pitchers played a role in two scoring innings for the Bryant Hornets on Tuesday night as they overcame an early 2-1 deficit to earn a 7-2 victory.

The win improved the Hornets to 16-1 overall this season, 6-0 in the 6A-Central Conference along at the top. They host North Little Rock on Friday.

“Patience is key to what we’ve got to learn at the plate especially against guys like that,” said Hornets head coach Travis Queck, referring to Cabot’s lefty starter Hogan Ralston, who featured off-speed pitches designed to mess with the Hornets’ timing at the plate. 

“We’ve got to start later and let the ball travel a little bit,” Queck continued. “We can’t be afraid of the fastball. It blows up after they’ve thrown a thumber, a thumber, a thumber and then a fastball. But we practice this. We talk about this. We talk about mechanisms that allow us to get on time with that. We’ve just got to find it sometimes. It may not be right out of the gate, but we’ve got to find it and that’s what we did tonight.

The Hornets had just six hits but three of them were clutch doubles by Austin Ledbetter, Conner Martin and Garret Wilson.

“In spots we needed them,” Queck acknowledged. “Those guys did a good job.”

Turner Seelinger picked up his second win in as many conference games on the mound. After going the distance against Little Rock Central on Thursday, he worked into the sixth on Tuesday. Cabot managed two early runs but got shut out the rest of the way. Seelinger had walked just one and fanned four before issuing consecutive passes with one out in the sixth. Will Hathcote relieved and struck out all five Cabot batters he faced to close out the win.

“I’m so used to coming back from Florida, after a six- or eight-game stretch, where we’d play ball every day,” Queck mentioned. “We’ve had rainouts. We’ve had forfeits. We just haven’t been able to get on the field. 

“So, I was kind of worried going in,” he continued. “But Turner did a good job of battling up right there. And we did a good job of not caving. We kept attacking, kept battling.

“I give Cabot credit. They had a plan going in to keep us off balance and they did a good job. But credit to our guys, too.

“It was good to see Will filling it up, just being the Will of old,” the coach added. “I was a little concerned when we pushed the (Central) game back to Thursday, how it would affect Turner right here and I do think it affected him a little bit because he’s used to a longer stretch (between starts), but he battled. And those guys (Cabot) can hit. They’ve always been able to hit. He kept them off balance after the first two innings. He did a good job.

“I couldn’t be more proud of both those guys.”

The Hornets took a 1-0 lead in the first. Ryan Riggs singled to right for the first of his two knocks. With one out, Ledbetter belted his double to put runners at second and third for Martin, who got a squeeze bunt down to plate the run, the first of his three RBIs.

Cabot tied it in the home first when Ralston singled and courtesy runner Hayden Prewitt advanced to second on a balk. Grant Fitch’s grounder to the right side moved Prewitt to third then Kyler Carmack singled up the middle to get him home.

After the Hornets were set down 1-2-3 in the top of the second, Cabot took its 2-1 lead on a one-out single by Zack Hardcastle and a long double by Kolby Webb.

Seelinger kept Webb at second as he fanned Braxton Ring, walked Ralston and got Fitch on a one-hop shot back to the box.

Riggs and Ledbetter each waited out walks in the top of the third. With two down, Martin drilled a double to left and both of them scored to put the Hornets back on top 3-2.

Seelinger, starting with the final out of the second, set down eight in a row and 11 of 12 before those sixth-inning walks. The lone baserunner was Ralston, who singled with one down in the fifth.

The Hornet right-hander got some help from his defense. Carmack made a bid for an extra-base hit but Blaine Sears ranging over into the gap from centerfield, made a diving catch to rob him and end the frame.

Bryant’s game-breaking fifth had begun with another free pass to Ledbetter. Martin was then hit by a pitch. Trying to sacrifice, J.T. Parker got a bunt down that he beat out for a hit to load the bases for Seelinger.

Ralston gave way to right-hander Avie Singleton. He got Seelinger on a hot shot to third. Hardcastle made the play and got a force at third then tried to throw home to get Ledbetter. But the throw was too wide for catcher Jaiden Ryals to reach. 

That’s when Wilson clubbed his double to left-center. Parker scored and Evan White, in as a courtesy runner for Seelinger, wound up at third. He raced home on a passed ball and Bryant’s lead was 6-2.

Sears drew a walk then he and Wilson worked a double steal. Ryals threw out Sears on a bang-bang play but Wilson waltzed home with the Hornets’ seventh run.

Seelinger fanned Ryals to start the bottom of the sixth. He then issued walks to Collin Olivi and Eli Hutcherson. Enter Hathcote, who fanned Hardcastle and Webb to end the threat. He struck out the side in the seventh.

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