Four-run rally lifts Hornets to Big Red Classic victory

Connor Martin slides home with the Bryant’s go-ahead run in the seventh. (Photo by Rick Nation)

For more photos of this event by Rick Nation, go here

BENTON — Two outs away from absorbing their first loss of the season, the Bryant Hornets rallied for four runs keyed by a two-run single by J.T. Parker, who was named the game’s MVP, as they captured the Big Red Classic trophy with a dramatic 4-2 win over the rival Benton Panthers at Everett Field.

Austin Ledbetter doubled to help fuel Bryant’s last-inning comeback. (Photo by Rick Nation)

The win improved the Hornets to 8-0 going into Saturday morning’s game against Greenbrier at UALR.

“It’s just a testament to these guys’ character,” said Hornets’ head coach Travis Queck. “Nothing’s insurmountable for them. It’s on them. They did a great job.”

The game was a scoreless pitching duel between Bryant’s Turner Seelinger and Benton’s Caleb Sollars going into the bottom of the sixth. 

Seelinger’s pitch count went to 79 when he hit Benton’s nine-hole hitter Jake Green on a 2-2 pitch. To that point, the right-hander had allowed just one hit, walked one and struck out nine.

Aidan Adams, who was playing in the basketball State Tournament for the Hornets in Fayetteville the night before, relieved. Brooks Lane sacrificed Green to second then, on a 3-2 pitch, Aidan Garrett drew a walk.

That moved Queck to bring in Ledbetter, who was throwing 90 miles per hour. But, on his second delivery, Benton’s Andrew Armstrong drilled a double to left-center that drove in both runs. It was just the Panthers’ second hit of the game.

J.T. Parker was named MVP of the Big Red Classic with his two-run single that put Bryant ahead in the seventh. (Photo by Rick Nation)

The senior right-hander bore down and struck out clean-up hitter Ethan Perry then got out of the inning with no further damage on a comebacker by Dawson Turner. 

After the Hornets rallied, Ledbetter struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh.

“You talk about the ultimate competitor,” Queck said. “The guy is undefeated as a quarterback for four years in football and, in baseball, I’ve seen him do some spectacular things. I love to watch him.

“I didn’t flinch,” he said of Armstrong’s double. “The guy did a good job ambushing a fastball and did what he was supposed to do then Led came back and set them down.”

Regarding the use of Adams, Queck said, “Aidan’s been coming in in the mornings throwing. You know, we’re in a spot in the season where we’ve got to know what we’ve got before we start conference. So, I gave him the opportunity. He may be out there tomorrow too.”

Bryant’s comeback started with Davis’ one-out shot up the middle for just the second hit allowed by Sollars.

Ledbetter got down in the count 0-2 then sliced a liner down the right-field line that Armstrong nearly flagged down with a diving attempt. He smothered it as it fell in and Ledbetter hoofed it into second.

So, with one out, the Hornets had the tying runs in scoring position.

Though the lead runner didn’t mean that much, the left side of the Benton infield came in with Martin at the plate. That proved crucial when Martin popped one into shallow center that fell in between Green, the centerfielder, and the diving attempt at a catch by Garrett from short.

Davis scored and Ledbetter stopped at third.

That brought up Parker who pulled a single into left. Ledbetter scored easily to tie the game then Martin sprinted around third and beat the wide throw from left to give the Hornets the lead. 

The throw got away from Jones, the Benton catcher, allowing Parker, who had taken second on the throw from left, to reach third.

Sollars, who had walked no one and had the Hornets shut out on one hit through 6 1/3, gave way to Garrett. Though he would strike out the next two batters to end the inning, Garrett unleashed a wild pitch that allowed Parker to score, making it 4-2.

Both Seelinger and Sollars were perfect through three innings. Benton’s Austin Phillips made a bid for an extra-base hit with one out in the bottom of the third only to have Blaine Sears race back and haul it in.

In the fourth, Riggs yanked a single into right. Jordan Knox came on as a courtesy runner for the catcher and took second on a passed ball. He then stole third.

The Hornets appeared to have the first run when Ledbetter flew to center. Knox tagged and came across the plate safely. But, on appeal, Knox was called out for leaving third too soon.

Lane got Benton’s first hit to lead off the bottom of the fourth. An errant pickoff throw from Seelinger sailed down the right-field line and Lane wound up at third.

But Seelinger came back to strike out the next two batters. Perry lined to Lawson Speer in deep center to force the Panthers to strand a man at third.

Seelinger worked around his only walk in the bottom of the fifth.

“You take a look at what both communities have produced,” Queck said about the Classic. “Not only in the professional ranks but collegiately. Two years ago, we’re talking about Blaine Knight (of Bryant with the University of Arkansas). Now, we’re talking about Peyton Paulette (of Benton with the University of Arkansas). So, there’s always good baseball in these two communities. This thing should sell out every year. This thing is big. It’s big-time, playing in a yard like this.”

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