Conference championship 1: Baseball

Bryant seniors, from left, Nate Rutherford, Tyler Green, Hayden Daniel, Hayden Lessenberry, Austin Caldwell, Marcus Wilson. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)Photos by Kevin Nagle

By Rob Patrick

The Bryant Hornets' pitching staff came into Friday’s 7A/6A-South Conference finale against the[more] El Dorado Wildcats with a combined earned run average of 1.53.

Brandan Warner takes a cut. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

And Jason Hastings, with seventh-inning relief from Hayden Daniel, lowered that. The duo combined on a four-hitter in the Hornets’ 9-1 win on Senior Night.

The pitching was supported by errorless defense and more clutch hitting, something the team has developed a knack for, particularly sophomore third baseman Brandan Warner. He, Ty Harris and Hastings, also sophomores, each had two-out RBI hits. Trevor Ezell drove in three runs. He and Harris each had two hits.

It was the Hornets’ 18th win in a row. They improved 25-5 overall and finish 13-1 in conference play. Though tied for the league title with Benton, the Hornets earn the 10 points for a championship in the ratings system because they had the tiebreaker advantage over the Panthers.

Bryant is set to play one last regular-season game today at 1 p.m., against Camden Fairview to tune up for the Class 7A State Tournament. The Hornets will be a No. 2 seed from the West and will open play at State in Rogers on Friday, May 10, at 2:30 p.m., against an opponent to be named.

Trevor Ezell sprints towards third on his sixth-hitting triple. (PHoto by Kevin Nagle)

The Hornets went ahead and honored seniors Austin Caldwell, Hayden Daniel, Tyler Green, Hayden Lessenberry and Nate Rutherford after Friday’s win.

It was Hastings’ second win over the Wildcats, who are the defending Class 6A State champions. At El Dorado, the Hornets won 4-1. Bryant head coach Kirk Bock was asked if he considered switching up between Hastings and Rutherford, the team’s other conference starter, the second time through the conference.

“We just try to keep them in order and let them go,” he stated. “Those two guys have been in rhythm. (Hastings) has been our Friday guy and Nate’s been our Tuesday guy and we just go with it. They’re in rhythm in the season like that.”

The lefty allowed just three hits over six innings, walking one and fanning six. El Dorado managed base-runners in just two innings against him. In the second, Matthew Lansdell singled with one out, took second on a wild pitch, third on a groundout then was stranded when Warner made a nice back-handed play behind third.

Ezell made a spectacular leaping grab of a liner by Justin Messer to open the third and Hastings followed with a pair of strikeouts.

Hayden Lessenberry gets plunked by a pitch. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

In the fourth, however, Jamie Nesbit drove a double down the line in left with one out. With two down, Hastings came a pitch away from getting out of the inning but his 3-2 pitch was wide and Lansdell drew a walk. Eli Lester cracked the next pitch for an RBI double but Hastings got Mason Clay to line out to Wilson in left to limit the damage.

“He had a rough inning right there where they strung together a couple of hits,” Bock acknowledged. “He left some balls up and there were a couple of hitters that he got behind (in the count) but he worked his way out. I don’t think this was his best performance, but he won. When you can win without your best stuff, you’re a pretty good pitcher.”

Hastings retired the last seven batters he faced. Daniel relieved and allowed a lead-off single to Lansdell then set down the next three batters to close it.

The Hornets grabbed a 3-0 lead in the second when Lessenberry led off with a single, Daniel walked and they moved up on a wild pitch from Wildcats’ starter Caleb Stutts.

The El Dorado right-hander rallied to fan the next two batters and had two strikes on Warner. But, on a 2-2 pitch, Warner reached out and poked a single to right to drive in Lessenberry with the game’s first run. A passed ball allowed Daniel to score. With Warner at second, Harris got down in the count 1-2 but then laced a shot to the gap in right-center for an RBI double to make it 3-0.

Ty Harris steps on first for the final out of Friday's game. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

“Those were huge hits,” Bock said. “We made some little adjustments in the lineup but we’ve got to keep Warner where he’s at. There’s no doubt about that, because he’s like the second clean-up guy and it seems like he’s always coming up with two outs and getting big hits for us. I think that was the part that really separated us. Once those guys got those hits, we were all right.”

Nesbit relieved in the third and, after giving up a walk to Ezell, retired six in a row.

In the fifth, however, the Hornets got to him too. Harris led off the inning by slicing a single past third. With one out, he stole second and scored on Ezell’s liner up the middle. After Ezell stole second and third, Wilson blooped one into no-man’s land down the left-field line. Ezell scored and, hustling out of the box, Wilson slid safely into second with a double to make it 5-1.

Lessenberry was hit by a pitch and pinch-runner Connor Tatum joined Wilson on a double steal to get into scoring position for Hastings who yanked a single to left to chase both home and extend the lead to 7-1.

The Hornets put the finishing touches on the scoring in the sixth when Warner was issued a free pass by the third El Dorado pitcher, Justin Childs. Green was hit by a pitch then Ezell shot a drive into right-center that got to the wall for a two-run triple.

Marcus Wilson slides into third with a stolen base as El Dorado third baseman Matthew Lansdell awaits a throw that never came. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

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