File photos by Rick Nation and Jimmy Jones
FORT SMITH — Junior right-hander Turner Seelinger came into Friday’s quarterfinal game at the 6A State Tournament with a miniscule 1.20 earned run average.
And he actually lowered it.
Seelinger extended a scoreless inning streak to 15 frames as he whirled a two-hit shutout, allowing just one walk and fanning five, as the Hornets, champions of the 6A-Central Conference, eked out a 1-0 win over the Bentonville Tigers at Hunts Park.
It was his second consecutive shutout. Seelinger blanked the hard-hitting Jonesboro Golden Hurricane the week before. He gave up just one run in a winning effort over Cabot in the outing before that. So, he’s allowed one run in the last 20 2/3 innings.
The win improved the Hornets to 24-4 on the season and moved them forward to the State semifinals on Friday at noon against Springdale Har-Ber, which ousted Little Rock Catholic, 8-4, on Friday.
“Turner’s been doing that all year for us,” acknowledged Hornets head coach Travis Queck. “The last game, he looked really, really good on the mound, made them be aggressive at the plate. When you’re filling it up, they have to be aggressive at the plate or else they’re going to be behind in the count.
“Turner just executed his pitches and played his game,” he continued. “The guys behind him played defense. It’s pitching and defense this time of year.
“I’m proud of Turner, excited for him,” he concluded, adding that senior catcher Ryan Riggs, who calls the pitches himself, “did a heck of a job.”
Bentonville’s Keegan Allen nearly matched Seelinger allowing the unearned run in the bottom of the sixth while scattering four hits and walking three.
“There’s a reason that guy’s getting a lot of attention,” Queck said. “Keegan Allen is a heck of an athlete and a heck of a pitcher. I’m glad he didn’t get us today, but I wish that kid nothing but success.
“Our guys knew it was going to be a challenge and a battle,” he added.
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Conner Martin bounced a base hit through the hole into left. Garret Wilson followed with a shot to right-center. Tyrus Riley charged the ball and made an ill-advised throw to third, which was late. Wilson hustled into second.
On his way to striking out J.T. Parker, Allen’s 2-2 pitch popped out of the glove of his catcher Matthew Nagelson and rolled toward the first-base dugout. Martin hustled home.
Wilson was stranded at third so the game went to the top of the seventh with Bryant up 1-0.
Seelinger set down the Tigers 1-2-3 with a pair of strikeouts to close out the victory.
“That last inning was big,” Seelinger said. “I told them right before we went in the dugout, “We get one run and I’m closing this game out. All I was thinking is we’ve got to get these guys out and we need to go on and win this game.”
With mistake-free defense behind him, Seelinger set down the first 11 Tiger batters to start the game.
With two down in the top of the fourth, Riley lined a single to center. But Seelinger got Allen, the clean-up hitter, to pull a grounder toward third where Conner Martin adjusted to a bad hop beautifully and threw to first to end the inning.
In the fifth, Drew Wright barreled up an 0-1 fastball for a liner to left. With the crossing wind from right, the ball kept drifting away from Wilson, the leftfielder. He got a glove on it but couldn’t nab it. Wright rounded second and headed to third on the play. With what looked like a perfect relay, Wilson got the ball to Noah Davis, the cut-off man from short. He threw a strike to Martin at third, but it was ruled that the Wright got in under the tag.
That’s when Seelinger wratched it up a notch.
With the infield in, Joseph Hardin, tapped to Parker at first. He looked Wright back to third and touched first for the second out of the inning.
The count went to 2-2 on Jackson Hutchens before he rolled one to Davis at short. He threw to first for the out that ended Bentonville’s lone threat.
“It was just slider, fastball today,” Seelinger said. “I didn’t really throw the change-up much. They’re a lot like Jonesboro, a lot of big, strong power hitters. So, we thought just kind of throw away from them and kind of work into attacking them.”
“We thought we could do some things right there,” Queck said of the home sixth. “I tell you, the guys in the back half of the lineup squared some balls up.
“It’s the way the game’s played this time of the year,” he noted. “Little mistakes matter. That’s what we’ve been preaching the last two weeks.
“We beefed up the schedule toward the end of the year for this reason, for those type of close games.”
In the sixth, the first two Tigers popped out — Kieper Pate to Lawson Speer in right and lead-off man Peyton Allen on a foul ball hauled in by Parker outside first.
Seelinger walked Peyton Gorman on a 3-2 pitch but then got Riley to ground to Davis at short, who got the force at second.
Bryant had more baserunners than Bentonville mustered. In the third, Logan White walked with one out and Speer singled to left. Riggs grounded into a force at second but then swiped the bag, but Keegan Allen wriggled out of the jam by getting Austin Ledbetter to sky to center.
In the fourth, Martin and Parker each walked but were stranded.
Riggs singled with two down in the fifth. Again, he stole a bag but was left aboard as the game went to the sixth scoreless.