Har-Ber hurlers no-hit Hornets, end their season

File photo by Jimmy Jones

FORT SMITH — It had the feel of the time that Ryan Riggs turned the Bryant Hornets’ deficit to the Conway Wampus Cats into a lead with a three-run blast or when Austin Ledbetter walked off the Sheridan Yellowjackets with a solo blast.

Or many other times that the Bryant Hornets had, against all odds, rallied to snatch victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat.

After all, Hunts Park had some funky dimensions. The deepest parts of the park were 385 in right center and 375 in left center. It was a more standard 315 down one line and 330 down the other but in straightaway center, it was just 335 feet. 

Why an average “can o’ corn” flyball to center in massive Bryant High School Field where it’s 398 to center with a high fence, would go out at Hunts.

The bases were loaded. The Hornets had done a good job of battling at the plate and hustling on the bases to get that done to bring up Riggs, their top hitter at .378 entering the 6A State Tournament.

Riggs worked the count to 2-2 then skied one to center. But he just got under it and Drue McClendon of the Springdale Har-Ber Wildcats got under it and hauled it in to close out his team’s 3-0 win in which starter Cooper Dossett, with ninth inning help from Ross Felder, combined on a no-hitter, which ended the season for the Hornets, champions of the 6A-Central Conference.

(I could not find any record of a no-hitter ever being thrown against the Hornets.)

Har-Bar, the 2 seed from the 6A-West, advances to play Felder, the number one seed from the West, in the State championship game next weekend in Benton. Rogers ousted North Little Rock 11-7.

It’s the Wildcats’ fourth consecutive trip to the finals (not counting 2020 when the season ended after two weeks. They won the championship in 2018.

The Hornets, bidding for their first return to the State championship game since winning it all in 2016, finish the year 24-5.

“It’s disappointing,” said Hornets head coach Travis Queck. “You can’t question the effort. The guys wanted to win. They wanted to achieve success. It just wasn’t for us today. I tip my cap to their pitcher and their team. It’s a solid ballclub.

Dossett, who was effectively wild, struck out 10 but walked four and hit two batters before giving way to Kellar with two on and no one out in the bottom of the seventh. Both benefited from a high strike zone.

The Hornets had three opportunities to score including that bottom of the seventh when Dossett issued walked to Garret Wilson and Turner Seelinger to open the frame. Kellar got a strikeout then a second out on Lawson Speer’s fly to deep center.

Blaine Sears, down to the Hornets’ last strike, hit a bouncer to third where Har-Ber’s Ethan Fender fielded the ball deep then tried to out-run Wilson to the bag at third. On a bang-bang play, Wilson was ruled safe despite protests. Fender could’ve easily ended the game with a throw to first but his vain attempt at beating Wilson to third — both dove into the bag from different angles — kept the Hornets’ hopes for a comeback alive.

Bryant had loaded the bases in the opening inning as well. Riggs walked, Ledbetter was hit by a pitch and, after Noah Davis sacrificed them to second and third, Conner Martin drew a free pass to load the bases with one out.

But Dossett found his command and struck out the next two batters.

In the sixth, Riggs was plunked by a 1-2 pitch. Courtesy runner Jordan Knox advanced to second on a passed ball and third on Davis’ groundout. He was left aboard when Dossett ended the inning with a strikeout.

“I think that we made it bigger than what it really was,” said Queck, regarding the no-hitter. “It’s still see ball, hit ball. I saw our guys jumping at pitches, pulling off thinking that, ‘Me swinging hard is going to be the difference here,’ and that’s not it. It’s just linking the barrel to the baseball.

“We had some opportunities that — and that’s what we talked about yesterday,” he continued, referring to the Hornets’ 1-0 win over Bentonville on Friday. “It was the same situation yesterday, the same kind of ball game and atmosphere, the same kind of arm. When you get that opportunity, there’s no going back. You have to succeed in this. We just didn’t do it today.

“We’ve had success in the past. Some guys have come up in those moments and had the success.

“It’s going to boil down to today, because this is it but, man, these guys played their butts off all year,” the coach asserted. “They’ve competed and gave themselves a chance every game. You know, one hit right there (in the seventh) may have tied the game.”

An error opened the door for Har-Ber to score. After Bryant starter Aiden Adams worked around a pair of two-out singles in the first, he surrendered a one-out hit in the second but picked the runner off.

The error opened the door in the top of the third as Caden Ross reached base. Davis, the Hornet shortstop, made a tough back-handed stab of Ross’ bouncer to his right. His throw was to first appeared to be in time but it skipped on the artificial surface past the glove of first baseman J.T. Parker.

            A four-pitch walk to lead-off man Walker Immel followed. Adams fanned the next batter, Clark Jenkins, and had a 1-2 count on Ethan Fender before he yanked a single to left driving in Ross.

            Adams fanned Brock Kimbrel bringing up Dossett, who ripped a double to right center to make it 2-0.

Queck turned to right-hander Will Hathcote. He issued an intentional walk to load the bases. Felder bounced to short for the final out of the inning.

Hathcote kept the Wildcats down until McClendon led off the top of the sixth with a double. Ross Fields sacrificed him to third and, after a two-out walk to Ross, Immel singled to center to make it 3-0.

“All we can do is build on this,” said Queck. “Like I told these guys, these are experiences that you’re going to take with you the rest of your life. Some of you guys just walked off the field for the last time. And, although the journey was miserable sometimes — there were some peaks and some valleys — you’re going to go back and have that experience to draw upon in our endeavors in life, as a husband, as a business owner or a co-worker or an employee. You’re going to be a better human, the better option. You’re going to draw back on these experiences and succeed.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, these seniors are going to be successful.”

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