Photos by Rick Nation
By Rob Patrick
Senior Hayden Lessenberry made his first start at catcher, completing a long, tough rehabilitation[more] from a shoulder injury Friday night for the Bryant Hornets. But the three-year starter didn’t really have to test it thanks to his battery-mate, right-hander Nate Rutherford, who allowed just two base-runners who were both wiped out on doubleplays turned by keystone combo, Korey Thompson and Trevor Ezell. It also helped when center fielder Tyler Green made a spectacular diving catch at the base of the center-field wall.
Rutherford hit a batter in the first inning and had a no-hitter until Lake Hamilton’s Chris Eastburn beat out a scratch hit on a “swinging bunt” up the third-base line that Brandan Warner nearly turned into another splendid defensive play. Rutherford needed just 44 pitches to get through the five innings. He only ran the count to three balls once in the game, during a 15-pitch third.
“That’s the thing about Nate,” said Hornets head coach Kirk Bock. “He’s going to win a lot of games anywhere he’s at if he’s got a good defense behind him because he’s going to make you put it in play. And it’s not like they can really square it up. They squared it up on one ball that Greenie ran down but, other than that, it’s just hard to square him up.”
Offensively, the Hornets racked up 11 hits including two each by Hayden Daniel, Jason Hastings and Lessenberry. Daniel drove in three runs and Warner had a two-run single.
“That was probably the most complete game we’ve played,” Bock asserted. “We had good pitching, good defense and we swung it well. Recently, we’ve been swinging it real well but, typically, we’ll make a mistake somewhere but we really didn’t (tonight). The kids were focused up and did a great job.”
The win improved the Hornets to 17-5 overall and 4-1 in conference play going into their most important week of the season so far. They travel to El Dorado on Tuesday then visit Benton on Friday, April 12. Coming into their game against each other last night, the Wildcats and Panthers were still unbeaten in league play.
Bryant scored in four of the five innings and ended the contest with a run-rule victory with one out in the bottom of the fifth.
In the opening frame, Ezell singled and Wilson walked. They worked a double steal and Hastings blooped a single into right-center that dropped despite a valiant effort to make a diving over-the-shoulder catch by Lake Hamilton second baseman Mason Chapmond.
Ezell scored on the play and Wilson wound up at third. But when Eastburn, the Wolves’ starting pitcher, made a wild pickoff throw to first, he scored and Hastings sprinted to third.
Daniel drew a two-out walk to keep the inning going then Lessenberry waited out a pass to load the bases for Warner who fouled off a 2-2 pitch then cracked a liner to right for a two-run single that made it 4-0.
Eastburn gave way to right-hander Nathan Sawrie who got the final out of the first and worked around a pair of walks in the second.
In the top of the second, Green robbed Eastburn of extra bases with his “web-gem” in center. Ezell followed with a nifty play on a topper over the mound off the bat of Clay Jessie.
In the third, the Hornets did some squaring up on Sawrie. Ty Harris lined a single to center then scored all the way from first when Daniel laced one into the left-field corner for a double. He scored on Lessenberry’s sharp single to left to make it 6-0.
While Rutherford was completing a run of setting down 10 in a row, the Hornets struck for two more in the fourth. Wilson and Hastings singled and wound up at second and third when the return throw from right field on the second hit got through the infield.
With one down, the Wolves brought in the infield and kept Wilson from scoring on Harris’ bouncer to second. But Daniel belted a single over the shortstop’s head to bring both around.
Lake Hamilton’s lone hit came on an 0-1 delivery to Eastburn that had him tied up. But he got enough of it to roll it towards third. A pitch later, however, Clay Jessie hit a sharp grounder to Thompson at second and he started the 4-6-3 doubleplay. Sean Faught bounced out to Ezell to send it to the bottom of the fifth.
Thompson shot a single into left to get things started. Green walked on four pitches to bring up Ezell. He got a bunt down and when Sawrie tried to get a force at third, his throw was wild allowing Thompson to score.
Green wound up at third and he scored the game-ending tally on Wilson’s sacrifice fly to center.