By Rob Patrick
PEARCY — Formula for victory:[more]
1. Nate Rutherford extraordinarily efficient on the mound;
2. Solid and, at times, spectacular defense;
3. Clutch hitting, this time by Brandan Warner (again), Marcus Wilson and Trevor Ezell, who each had two-out RBI hits.
With the resulting 6-0 win over the Lake Hamilton Wolves, the Bryant Hornets clinched a first-round bye for the Class 7A State Tournament in Rogers next week. Depending on what happens the rest of the week to Bryant and to West Conference leader Fayetteville, the Hornets could be the top seed or the second seed for State, which begins Thursday, May 9, with the bye teams getting started on Friday.
It's a familiar position for the Hornets. It's the fourth year in a row they've earned a bye and, in the previous three, they reached the State championship game, winning it all in 2010 and 2012.
Bryant is set to close out play in the South Conference on Friday at home against El Dorado. Saturday, they finish the regular season with a non-conference contest with Camden Fairview at 1 p.m.
Against Lake Hamilton, Rutherford needed just 62 pitches to go seven innings. Of those 62 pitches only 15 were balls. His first 14 pitches in the game were all strikes as he eased through the first two innings. The right-hander has not allowed just one run over his last 31 1/3 innings of work, lowering his earned run average to a miniscule 0.94.
“Nate’s usually in the 60’s and 70’s and he had a long inning in there,” noted Bryant coach Kirk Bock about the senior's pitch counts. “That’s just Nate. He’s a pitcher. He’s done a good job.”
Rutherford’s “long” innings were 16 pitches in the third and 12 in the fourth. He got through every other frame by delivering less than 10 in each.
He was aided by a pair of splendid defensive plays from center fielder Tyler Green, another by right fielder Hayden Daniel and, on the infield, one by Warner at third.
At the plate, the Hornets took until the third inning to break through against Wolves right-hander Nathan Sawrie. They would get a run in the third, another in the fourth and four in the sixth.
“Once we got through (the line-up) once, we did a lot better job,” Bock noted. “The first time through, it’s really icing on the cake when we can get in there really fast on a guy. Once Green (the lead-off hitter) got back up the second time, from there on out we did a pretty good job. And we hit some balls hard in there too.”
Ezell finished with three hits. Wilson and Warner had two each. Daniel and Korey Thompson added a hit apiece.
In the third, Warner was robbed of a hit by Lake Hamilton third baseman Kyle Jessie but then Sawrie issued a walk to Trey Breeding. With two down, Ezell lined a single to left then Wilson drilled a double down the line to bring courtesy-runner Austin Caldwell around to score the first run.
A walk to Hayden Lessenberry loaded the bases but Daniel got just under a fastball and flew out to center.
In the fourth, Thompson ripped a bouncer over the third-base bag and into the rolled-up tarp down the line for a ground-rule double. Warner came through with a single that was hit too sharply to score Thompson. But pinch-hitter Jason Hastings got him home with a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.
Meanwhile, Lake Hamilton’s Hunter Lipton and Andrew Seymour managed two-out singled in the third only to be stranded.
In the fourth, Kyle Jessie singled and, with two down, Drew Dodson was hit by a pitch. Briar Jackson’s base hit to right loaded the bases but Rutherford induced Sean Faught to hit a grounder to Warner at third for a force to end the threat.
After that, Lipton had a lead-off single in the fifth and Faught singled with one out in the seventh to provide the Wolves with their long base-runners.
The four-run sixth for the Hornets made it a more comfortable finish, though the Hornets needed to win by 5 to get the maximum points towards their seeding in the West as well.
Sawrie walked Ty Harris on four pitches to start the inning. Mark Rucker came on in relief and Thompson got a nice sacrifice bunt down. With Jessie charging in aggressively to third, he pushed it up the first-base line to get Harris to second.
That brought up Warner, who shot a single to right to drive in the run.
Breeding followed and, with a 1-2 count, Bock called on him to sacrifice. The sophomore catcher came through under pressure and got Warner to second and in scoring position.
Green drew a walk then Ezell ripped a single up the middle. Warner hustled home to make it 4-0. On the late throw to the plate, Green took third and Ezell jetted into second to get in scoring position for Wilson, who delivered his second double of the game to cap the scoring.
“Trevor’s just been solid and Warner has been, for the last two or three weeks, kind of our clutch guy,” Bock noted. “He does a good job of handling that eight hole and it seems like he gets up in some big situations. He’s playing well right now. I’ve thought about bouncing him around in the order but he’s comfortable right there. I think I’m going to just let him stay.”
Unofficially, Ezell is batting .495 on the season with a current 10-game hitting streak. Warner’s played in 13 games this season and hit safely in 10 of them. In the Hornets’ last 11 games, he has driven in 12 runs. Wilson, who’s had two hitting streaks of seven games in a row this season, upped his average to .462 with his 2 for 4 performance Tuesday.