Debut of new field a grand affair: Hornets mark occasion with 11-4 victory
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continue posting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By ROB PATRICK
Someone questioned Bryant Hornets baseball coach Terry Harper about the wisdom of scheduling a team as consistently competitive as the Malvern Leopards for the inaugural game on the new Bryant Hornets baseball field on Monday, Feb. 19. On such occasions, Harper was reminded, you might want to schedule somebody that you feel certain of beating.
Harper, while voicing belief in his team, admitted some concern about that but it was for naught. The Hornets made their 2001 debut before a large crowd at their sparkling new diamond Monday night a memorable one with an 11-4 victory over the Leopards.
Senior shortstop Matt Brown drove in three runs with a pair of doubles to pace the Hornets’ offense which produced nine runs in the first two innings. Lead-off man Matt White played table-setter to a tee, drawing four walks and scoring twice in the game.
“The result was good, the turnout was good, the field was looked great and the participation was great,” Harper said, after the game. “The kids were excited, I was excited, everybody was. We had a good turnout. We got about everybody in the game.”
The night included pre-game festivities that included acting superintendent Dr. Ricki Bailey, assistant superintendent Don McGohan, BHS principal Danny Spadoni and school board members Mike McCreight, Pam Knetzer, David Passmore, Leslie Samples, and Herman Thompson. In addition, there was a plaque of appreciation presented to long-time Bryant High baseball coach Joe Calhoun who was hired at Bryant to start the baseball program and coached the team for 16 years, earning eight conference championships and 14 winning seasons. Thompson then threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Senior lefty Brad Chism started on the mound for Bryant and ran into a little first-inning trouble. He issued a one-out walk to Lynn Huneycutt then got a strike away from getting out of the inning before Kent McClure drove a single to left.
Again, Chism got to within a strike of getting out of the jam with Michael Berry at the plate, but Berry worked him for a walk to load the bases. Likewise with the next hitter, Michael McClelland who, on a 1-2 delivery rifled a shot to the left of Bryant third baseman Beau Hamblin who made a diving stab only to throw the ball away with a late throw to first. Two runs scored.
With runners at second and third, Chism ran the count to 3-2 on Brian Branum but got out of it this time with a grounder to second.
The Hornets doubled up the Leopards in the bottom of the inning, however. As Berry walked White and, with one out, Brandon Nichols. White eventually scored on a balk. After Cody Graddy drilled a single to left, Brown blasted a double over the left-fielder’s head to make it 3-2.
Brown advanced on a passed ball then scored on a single by Luke Brown to make it 4-2.
Chism settled in for the second inning and worked around a lead-off error, getting outs on a pop up and comebacker and a dribbler in front of the plate.
Four Malvern errors and two walks helped the Hornets add five runs in the bottom of the second.
Junior right-hander Kevin Littleton relieved for Bryant in the third and struck out the middle of the Malvern batting order. He gave up a one-out single in the fourth but, on a hit and run play, Jeff Henderson lined to Bryant’s A.J. Nixon in right. Nixon threw in to first before the baserunner could get back for an inning-ending double play.
Nichols beat out an infield hit in the bottom of the fourth. Hamblin walked and, with one out, Matt Brown laced one to the base of the fence in deep center to drive in Nichols.
Senior right-hander Chris Sory relieved for Bryant in the fifth and gave up an infield single to Ryan Wheatley to start the inning. Lead-off man Leighton Hardin appeared to have a bunt single after that but he was ruled out for interfering with Graddy, the Bryant catcher, who was trying to get out to the baseball. Wheatley had to return to first.
Second baseman Jackson Moseley made a fine running catch in shallow right of a pop by Lynn Huneycutt for the second out but Curtis Simmons followed with a shot to right-center for an RBI triple.
Three-base hits used to be rare things at Bryant home games. The team used to play in tiny Ashley Park. But the spacious gaps at Hornets Field put them back into the realm of possibility.
Sory came back after the triple and fanned McClure, the clean-up man, to end the inning with Simmons perched on third.
He gave up an infield hit and a walk with one out in the sixth inning but again worked his way out of the inning as Henderson popped out to Derrick Chambers at first and Wheatley was called out on strikes.
The Hornets added a final tally in the bottom of the sixth. Zach Martin singled, stole second and, with two down, scored when Matt Brown reached base on a third-strike wild pitch that drew an errant throw to first.
Hamblin became the fourth pitcher for the Hornets in the top of the seventh. He retired the first two then Simmons hit a tap to the left of the mound. Hamblin fielded and his late throw was wide of first. Simmons wound up at second and he scored from there on a single by McClure to make it 11-4.
But Hamblin ended it by getting Berry to ground out to second.
“We hit the ball real well right out of the gate,” Harper noted. “Pitching, we started out a little bit behind in the count. But Brad settled down and all of our pitchers did a good job. We did a good job defensively, except for a couple of throws. And we did a good job offensively at times. We had a couple of guys that are usually our leaders at the plate that struggled a little bit but everybody else picked them up.”
Harper also singled out Graddy, his catcher. “We gave him the game ball,” he said. “He did a heck of a job blocking pitches in the dirt and that was separated him from being a good catcher and being a great catcher. If he can continue to do that, it’s really going to help us.”