File photo by Rick Nation
NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Clutch two-out hits by Myer Buck and Logan Chambers keyed a three-run fourth and the pitching of Will McEntire, Coby Greiner and Scott Schmidt made those runs hold up as the Bryant Hornets held on for a 3-2 win over the Fayetteville Bulldogs in the first game of the Class 7A baseball tournament at Vince DeSalvo Stadium’s Dejanis Memorial Field in Burns Park on Thursday morning.
The Hornets, with just four seniors this season, got big moments from each of them. Along with Buck’s two-run double, Brandon Hoover went 2 for 2 with a walk, Matthew Sandidge made a diving catch in the gap in right-center to save a run and Schmidt reached base three times then came on to pitch and record the final out of the game for his first save of the season.
Buck came to the plate in the home fourth after Hoover had singled and Greiner had earned a one-out walk. With two down, Buck got down 0-2 then fouled off a pair of tough pitches from Fayetteville starter Miller Pleimann before drilling a double to left-center just out of the reach of Fayetteville’s left-fielder Matthew Magre. With both runners moving on contact, they both scored to make it 2-0.
“Myers has kind of done that all year,” noted Hornets head coach Travis Queck. “Him and Hoover — I tell you what, Hoover had a day. He was seeing the baseball today real well. He was able to battle off pitches, battle off pitches, to stay in there. He really could tell what was a ball and what was a strike. He did a good job and then Myers right there. He was down both his first two at-bats 0-2 and battled up. It’s seniors trying to play another day.”
And the Hornets, now 21-9-1 will return on Friday at 10 a.m., against the 7A-West Conference’s champion Har-Ber Wildcats of Springdale.
Moments after Buck’s knock, down in the count 1-2, Chambers cracked a bouncer up the middle that Fayetteville’s Jeff Sinacore got within reach of only to have the ball hit the lip of the infield grass and hug the ground past Sinacore and into center for an RBI single.
McEntire fanned seven and walked no one through five innings as the Bryant starter. The junior right-hander gave up a hit in each inning but forced the Bulldogs to strand all five. He struck out the side in the first around a one-out single by Weston Tate. In the second, he gave up a bloop single with two away to Beau Stuckey.
Fayetteville’s best chance to score before the sixth was in the third when, with one out, Emery Kincaid, the Dogs’ lead-off hitter, doubled to left-center then tagged and went to third on Tate’s fly to Buck in right. Jackson Down came up and hit a liner to the gap in right-center that appeared to be down for an RBI hit. But Sandidge raced over and made a headlong dive to catch the ball right off the top of the grass to end the inning and keep it scoreless.
In the fourth, Magre was stranded after a two-out double. In the fifth, Mason Shaw had a looping one-out single but was stranded with third baseman Logan Catton making a sparkling play to end the inning as Tate hit a hard grounder to Catton’s left. He made a diving stop, got up and fired to first in time.
Pleimann had allowed a single to Schmidt in the first. He was forced at second on a grounder by Jake Wright. Courtesy runner K.J. Merriweather went to second on a wild pitch and, when Austin Ledbetter struck out on a pitch that got past Tate, the Fayetteville catcher, advanced to third as Ledbetter made it to first.
Both, however, were left aboard as Pleimann induced pop out by Sandidge.
In the second, Hoover led off with a single to right and was sacrificed to second by Greiner. Catton skied to center to bring up Buck, who got down 0-2, fought back to 3-2 but struck out.
Pleimann worked around a two-out hit by Wright in the third.
After the Hornets made it 3-0 in the bottom of the fourth, Pleimann issued a one-out walk to Hoover in the home fifth. He was up to 97 pitches and was replaced by Jacob Davenport.
Pinch-runner Logan Grant stole second but Davenport got out of the inning, retiring Greiner on a fly to right after an extended eight-pitch battle. Pinch-hitter Gage Stark grounded out to second.
Just 66 pitches into the game that point, McEntire issued his first two walks to start the top of the sixth as Down and Luke Davenport waited him out, both on 3-2 deliveries. After a ball to Pleimann, Queck turned to Greiner, the Hornets’ closer who got Pleimann to pop to first.
But Magre singled to right to load the bases. A run scored when Stuckey rolled out to Schmidt at second.
An unintentional-intentional walk to Sinacore loaded the bases to set up a force everywhere with two down and the Hornets almost escaped at that point. But Shaw hit slow roller to the left side that was beyond Catton’s reach for an infield hit and an RBI, making it 3-2 with the top of the Fayetteville batting order coming up.
Greiner ended it there, though, as he got Kincaid to bounce to second for a force.
“Mac did a good job,” Queck said of his pitching. “I didn’t like the mentality in that (sixth) inning. I thought he was kind of missing and being too careful instead of just attacking. He walked two guys and they ended up scoring. Lead-off walks kill you. So, we went ahead and made the change to Greiner and he struggled coming right off short and straight in, but he hung in there and we were able to make the plays.
After the Hornets were retired in order in the bottom of the sixth, Greiner quickly retired the first two batters of the top of the seventh. Catton made another eye-popping play for the second out, robbing Down of a hit. Chambers helped by leaping for his high throw and getting down on the bag before Down got there.
With his pitch count at 28 (he couldn’t go over 30 and be eligible to pitch on Friday), Queck turned to Schmidt, who hadn’t pitched in a varsity contest since April 11. He threw nothing but strikes and, on an 0-2 count, Luke Davenport grounded to Noah Davis at second to end the game.
The Hornets now find themselves in a similar situation as last year when, after a first-round win, they faced a highly-regarded Bentonville team on their home field in the second round of State only to stun the Tigers, 9-8.
“We’re going to scratch and claw,” Queck said. “We’re going to see Har-Ber tomorrow and we’re going to roll it out there and go.”