Bryant Hornets’ catcher Dylan Hurt is splendid at blocking pitches in the dirt but, on Friday, it was a throw from first base to the plate the Hurt blocked that proved crucial.
And, moments later, right fielder Austin Kelly, instead of trying to throw out a runner at the plate on a sacrifice fly that cut Bryant’s lead to 4-3, hit the cutoff man.
Both plays kept the potential tying run at first base for the Russellville Cyclones who rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the top of the seventh in the second game of a 7A/6A-Central Conference doubleheader at BHS field.
With that runner, Ryan Meador, still at first with two out, Russellville’s lead-off hitter Bryson George, who already had two hits, came to the plate. Bryant’s senior right-hander Alex Shurtleff, who had come into the inning having thrown just 59 pitches through six innings of three-hit ball, got George to sky to centerfielder Logan Allen to end the game.
The Hornets, behind more stellar pitching from lefty Evan Lee, had won the opener 6-1. The sweep improved Bryant to 19-2 overall this season and 7-1 against conference foes.
The Hornets host the rival Benton Panthers in a non-conference game on Monday, April 18, then play a crucial league contest against Little Rock Catholic at Lamar Porter Field on Friday, April 22.
In game two against Russellville, the Hornets had padded a 2-1 lead with a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth, sparked by a lead-off triple from Joey Cates and RBI singles from Logan Allen and Lee.
The seventh inning opened with the Cyclones’ Caleb Hartgen beating out a bunt single. Ryan Talley then laced a double down the line in left bringing the potential tying run to the plate in Meador. He hit a sharp two-hopper to Aaron Orender at first. Thinking he had a play at the plate on Hartgen, Orender threw home. It was a little late and in the dirt. Hartgen scored and Talley went to third but the key was, with Hurt blocking the throw, Meador had to stay at first.
Shurtleff then fanned pinch-hitter Michael Campbell, his sixth of the game, bringing up Peyton Golden who lofted a fly to right. Both Talley and Meador tagged up. Talley scored but because Kelly hit Orender, the cut-off man, Meador was unable to move into scoring position.
“I thought Shurt did a great job of battling through adversity,” stated Hornets head coach Kirk Bock, noting that all three of Russellville’s runs were unearned. “We put him in some tough spots and he battled out.
“And that’s one of the things we preach all the time, that’s what I tell those kids,” he added. “I’m going to put them in impossible situations and I expect for them to find a way out. And it paid off for Shurt, because he found a stinkin’ way out. Especially getting the last guy out, George, because he’d been hot all day.”
The Hornets led 2-0 after three innings despite struggling a bit with soft-tossing lefty Reed Rispoli. Orender laced a single to right with two out in the second for Bryant’s first hit. He stole second and, after Seth Tucker drew a walk, they pulled off a double steal. A wild pitch allowed Orender to score.
Though Allen walked to load the bases, Rispoli escaped further damage by getting Hurt to fly out to right.
In the second, Lee drew a lead-off walk and, on an errant pickoff throw by Cyclones’ catcher Joel Barker, raced all the way to third. Garrett Misenheimer singled him home. Though Jake East singled with one out, the Hornets were limited to the one run.
Meanwhile, Shurtleff was shutting out the Cyclones. George had led off the game with a double but the Bryant hurler picked him off second. He then retired eight in a row before George single in the fourth.
On a hit-and-run, George made it to second on Barker’s grounder to Seth Tucker at second. He took third when Michael Mullen’s roller to the right side was fielded by Shurtleff for the second out.
The lone walk Shurtleff surrendered came next as Carter Thessing reached base. But Hurt threw out Thessing when he tried to steal second, keeping it 2-0.
In the home fourth, Allen reached on a one-out error and Hurt singled. Mullen came on to relieve for Russellville and struck out two, ending the threat.
In the fifth, a one-out error allowed Talley to reach second. Meador singled him home to get the Cyclones on the board but Shurtleff retired the next two to preserve a lead.
In the home fifth, Orender reached second on an error and Tucker drew a two-out walk. With Cates at the plate with an 0-2 count, they tried a double steal but Barker threw to third in time for the inning-ending out.
But Cates came back to the plate in the home sixth and drilled his triple to right-center.
“It’d been nice if it had been an inning before with two guys on but Joey did a good job right there,” Bock said. “He battled up. And that’s what I told him coming in, I said, ‘You’ve already seen him once.’ He almost had a full at-bat the inning before. When he relaxes and doesn’t press, he does a pretty good job.”
Allen slapped an RBI single to right to make it 3-1. He stole second, one of eight steals by the Hornets in the game, moved to third on Hurt’s groundout and scored when Lee drilled a 2-2 pitch up the middle for an RBI single.
Mullen then walked Misenheimer and lefty Ben Wilkins came on to relieve. He fanned the first two he faced to send it to the seventh.
In the opener, Lee scattered four hits, walked one and struck out eight in the route-going effort that took just 86 pitches. The lone walk came after he’d retired the first six in a row. Meador became Russellville’s first base-runner on that pass. Matt Laws sacrificed him to second then Lee struck out Layton Bicanovsky. That brought up George, who slapped an RBI single to right.
It was the only inning in which the Cyclones had more than one runner aboard. Lee worked around a one-out single by Meador in the fifth, a two-out double by Mullen in the sixth and a lead-off single by Hartgen in the seventh. A game-ending doubleplay erased Hartgen.
“Evan did a great job,” Bock said. “If we can get that kind of performance out of him every time he goes to the pole, we’re going to be pretty good.”
Trailing 1-0, the Hornets got things going at the plate in the bottom of the third against Golden, the Cyclones’ starter. Cates walked but was thrown out trying to steal. Allen, however, revved things up again with a single and a stolen base. Hurt walked and so did Lee, loading the bases for Misenheimer who delivered an RBI single to right, tying the game.
Jordan Gentry then yanked a single into left to make it 2-1. Jake East followed with a grounder to short but Barker’s throw to second to try to start a doubleplay went right past Meador, the second sacker. Grayson Prince, running for Lee, easily scored then, on the error, so did Misenheimer to make it 4-1.
Golden struck Orender with a pitch then gave way to Barker who got the third.
In the fourth, however, Barker plunked Allen who proceeded to swipe another base and, with one out, sprint home on a single up the middle by Lee on an 0-2 pitch, making it 5-1.
Orender’s one-out single in the bottom of the fifth led to the final run. He took second on a wild pitch and, with two down, Cates plugged the gap in left-center for an RBI double.
Lee tripled with one out in the sixth. Misenheimer walked and the Hornets tried to squeeze in another run. Gentry got the bunt down but Bicanovsky made a nice play, charging in from first to nail Prince as he tried to score.
“We linked up real well,” Bock said of the hitting in the first game. “We hit some really deep flyballs but, you know, we hit them hard. We didn’t have a whole lot of miss-hit balls. Those balls just happened to go right at them. I thought the kids did a tremendous job of just sticking to the game plan on that. They never did panic.”