By Rob Patrick
Photos by Kevin Nagle
It’s hard to imagine a tune-up game before the State Tournament could’ve gone much better than[more] the one the Bryant Hornets played against once-and-future conference rival Lake Hamilton Monday.
The Hornets racked up 13 hits including a pair of doubles with five runs batted in by hot-hitting Tyler Nelson on the way to an 11-1 win over the Wolves. Junior right-hander Nate Rutherford allowed one unearned run on just two hits over five innings with senior Tryce Schalchlin adding an inning of shutout relief in the run-rule victory.
Bryant, which opens play as a number two seed in the Class 7A State Tournament at Burns Park in North Little Rock on Friday at 2:30 p.m., improved to 22-7 on the season. In a quest to reach the State finals for the third year in a row, the Hornets will meet the survivor of a Thursday game between Fayetteville and West Memphis.
Lake Hamilton, a fourth-seeded team from the 6A-South, opens play in the 6A State tourney in Mountain Home on Thursday at 2:30 against the host team.
Monday’s game, originally set for the Wolves’ field, was moved to Bryant because of a broken water main and some electrical problems at the Pearcy school.
Eight of the nine batters in the Hornets’ line-up contributing to the hit parade, which took advantage of nine walks issued by a trio of Lake Hamilton hurlers. Trevor Ezell had three hits and was on base four times. Along with Nelson, Dylan Cross and Hayden Lessenberry had two hits apiece.
“Going in, we knew (Lake Hamilton) was going to hit a lot of groundballs because Rutherford and that sinker — people are just going to hit a lot of groundballs if he can keep it down,” noted Hornets head coach Kirk Bock. “His deal is, hey, let’s throw 12 to 15 pitches an inning, just make them put it in play and then we’ve got to make the plays.”
The lone Wolves run came after the lone Bryant error in the top of the first. Lead-off man John Michael Lipton tapped to third and reached on a throw to first that pulled Josh Pultro off the bag. Lipton stole second, Took third on an infield hit by Dalton Daniels. Rutherford picked off Daniels, who was running on the first pitch to Levi Runyan. Daniels left too soon when Rutherford made a fake-to-third, throw-to-first pick-off move.
Lipton had held at third on the play but scored moments later on Runyan’s grounder to second.
After that, Rutherford only surrendered a two-out walk in the third and a lead-off single in the fourth. The latter was erased on a doubleplay when Clay Jessie lined out to Ozzie Hurt at second with Runyan on the move.
Rutherford issued another pair of walks in the fifth with two out but got Lipton to bounce into a force to end the inning.
“He did a great job for us,” Bock said.
Lake Hamilton starter Mark Rucker worked around a two-out single by Jordan Taylor and an error that allowed Cross to reach base in the first. In the second, however, the Hornets loaded the bags with no one out. Lessenberry singled and Drew Tipton came in to run for him. Hurt and Hayden Daniel drew walks to load the bases for Tyler Green. He made a bid at a sacrifice fly to left but Lake Hamilton’s Dre Bennett fired home and, on a bang-bang play (and a disputed tag), threw Tipton out at the plate.
Rucker still couldn’t get out of the inning, though. He walked Ezell to bring up Nelson. Fresh from hitting his first home run of the season at Cabot on Friday, Nelson belted a long fly off the base of the wall in right for a double that cleared the bases and gave Bryant a 3-1 lead.
“Offensively, Nelson sparked us up right there,” Bock stated. “And everybody said, ‘You know what? That’s what you’re supposed to do.’”
After battling through a hitting slump through a three-game skid, the Hornets have now won two in a row going into the post-season.
“From daylight to dawn,” Bock said of the extra work the team’s been doing on hitting. “It’s just confidence. When they start hitting it then they start thinking they can hit it.”
Walks helped again in the third when Lessenberry drew a free pass with one out and Hurt pushed a perfect bunt that got past Rucker for a hit as Tipton was off and running with the pitch. With two away, Green walked to load the bags for Ezell who pulled a hard grounder into the hole at short. Runyan got to it but his throw to first was late and Ezell legged out an RBI single to make it 4-1.
And that brought up Nelson again with the sacks jammed. This time, his shot past the first base bag knocked in two and the Hornets held a 6-1 edge.
Rucker gave way to reliever Nathan Sawrie and the Wolves got out of the inning with no further damage.
For the time being.
But Sawrie opened the fourth by walking Cross. A wild pitch put pinch-runner Austin Caldwell at second and, with one out, Lessenberry’s hard bouncer to short was booted by Runyan. With two out, Daniel came through with an RBI single. Green then lined one to left that Lake Hamilton’s Dre Bennett came in on. But when he reached down to make the catch, the ball came out and Tipton scored as Green reached safely.
A base hit by Ezell made it 9-1. Sawrie walked Nelson this time to load the sacks but Runyan made a nice play on a hot grounder by Taylor to get a force at second and end the inning.
The Hornets loaded the bases again in the fifth when Cross singled and walks were issued to Lessenberry and Wes Akers. With one out, Caleb Marsh came in to relieve for the Wolves and he escaped with no further damage.
Again, however, only for the time being.
Schalchlin allowed a one-out single to Runyan in the top of the sixth and he issued a two-out walk to Jessie before getting Trent Curry to fly out to Green in left.
Marsh surrendered a lead-off single to Ezell in the bottom of the sixth. Though he was forced out on Nelson’s grounder to first, Nelson stole second and when no one covered, catcher Carter Greathouse’s throw whizzed into center field. Nelson, who wound up at third, scored on Taylor’s bouncer to second, making it 10-1.
Cross beat out an infield hit and Josh Pultro swatted a single to right that sent pinch-runner Korey Thompson to second. He scored the game-ending run when Lessenberry lashed a single to right.
BRYANT 11, LAKE HAMILTON 1
Wolves ab r h bi Hornets ab r h bi
Lipton, rf 2 1 0 0 Ezell, ss 4 1 3 2
Daniels, cf 3 0 1 0 Nelson, cf 4 1 2 5
Runyan, ss 3 0 2 1 Taylor, 3b 4 0 1 1
Greathouse, c 3 0 0 0 Cross, dh 4 1 2 0
Jessie, dh 2 0 0 0 Caldwell, pr 0 0 0 0
Curry, 1b 3 0 0 0 Thompson, pr 0 1 0 0
Chapmond, 2b 2 0 0 0 Pultro, 1b 5 0 1 0
Bennett, lf 1 0 0 0 Lessenberry, c 3 0 2 1
Thomas, 3b 1 0 0 0 Tipton, cr 0 2 0 0
Rucker, p 0 0 0 0 Hurt, 2b 2 2 1 0
Sawrie, p 0 0 0 0 Akers, ph 0 0 0 0
Marsh, p 0 0 0 0 Daniel, rf 3 2 1 1
Green, lf 2 1 0 0
Jackson, ph 1 0 0 0
Rutherford, p 0 0 0 0
Schalchlin, p 0 0 0 0
Totals 20 1 3 1 Totals 32 11 13 10
Lake Hamilton 100 000 — 1
BRYANT 033 302 — 11
Two out when game-ending run scored.
E—Taylor, Chapmond, Runyan, Bennett, Greathouse. DP—Lake Hamilton 1, Bryant 1. LOB—Lake Hamilton 5, Bryant 13. 2B—Nelson 2. SB—Lipton, Nelson.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Rucker (L) 2.2 6 6 6 5 0
Sawrie 1.2 3 0 3 4 1
Marsh 1.1 2 2 4 0 0
Rutherford (W) 5 1 0 2 3 4
Schalchlin 1 0 0 1 1 0
HBP—Taylor (by Rucker). WP—Rutherford 2, Rucker, Sawrie 2, Schalchlin.