BENTONVILLE — The Bryant Hornets are now a win away from returning to Baum Stadium and the Class 7A State championship game.
That’s because they out-lasted the host Bentonville Tigers, runner-up in the 7A-West Conference, 9-8 in Friday’s quarterfinals.
The Hornets patiently waited out nine walks and hit in the clutch as they answered every Bentonville challenge. A tense back-and-forth battle from the outset, it ratcheted up considerably at the end when the Hornets’ 9-5 lead was whittled down to a run in the bottom of the seventh. But senior right-hander Seth Tucker, after a calming visit for pitching coach Stephen Tharp, got his second wind and induced a grounder to second from Destyn Adkins that the Hornets’ Scott Schmidt turned into a force at second with a toss to shortstop Coby Greiner to end the game.
Bryant, now 20-7, will take on 7A-Central Conference regular-season champion, Cabot, in today’s noon semifinal. The two teams split a pair of league games this season.
The Hornets and the Tigers combined to plate eight runs in the first two innings of the game. Bryant’s three came on a bases-clearing triple by Konnor Clontz in the top of the second, which had the Hornets up 3-1.
Bentonville erupted for four runs in the bottom of the inning to take the 5-3 lead.
Senior Boston Heil relieved sophomore Will McEntire to get out of the second.
That and Tucker’s string of shutout innings (through six) allowed the Hornets to rally.
The Hornets’ comeback was fueled in part by their patience against Bentonville’s senior ace right-hander Jacob Williams. By working for six walks and forcing Williams into long counts, he amassed the pitch limit of 110 pitches before he could even get through the fifth inning.
“We met last night and we kind of went through all the scenarios — as a staff and as a team,” said Bryant head coach Travis Queck. “Getting that first (pitcher) out, Williams, who was very impressive. That’s what we tried to do and we did. That was our whole focus was to compete. I don’t know if we competed in some at bats yesterday against Springdale. But all the research we did on Williams last night — I just knew if we could get that pitch count up, if we could get to the next guy, we thought we had a chance.”
Right after Thursday’s 1-0 win over Springdale, Queck said that he expected Friday’s contest with Bentonville to be high-scoring.
“I was hoping there wasn’t going to be but I knew there was going to be a few runs scored,” he acknowledged after Friday’s win. “I knew (Bentonville) scored 30 (runs) on somebody and 22 on somebody — conference teams. So I knew there was a chance it was going to be a high-scoring game. We just had to do our job. That’s why we got Brandon Hoover in there for a few at bats.”
Hoover, a hard-hitting first-baseman/DH, entered when things were shifted around defensively as Tucker came to the hill. He walked and scored in the fourth and singled in the fifth to chase Williams.
Along with Clontz’ huge triple with two down in the second, Logan Chambers had three hits and an RBI, Greiner and Matthew Sandidge each had two hits. Greiner and Schmidt each drove in a run while Jake Wright drove in a pair without a hit.
Bryant cut the 5-3 lead to a run in the fourth then surged into the lead with a three-run sixth. They added a pair of insurance runs in the seventh that proved decisive.
“We had a goal to lengthen McEntire to the point where two or three times through the lineup,” Queck related. “When we saw that wasn’t going to happen, the immediate fix was to go to Boston because he was sitting right next to us.
“When Boston got us out of the that inning, which could’ve been worse than what it was. He did a good job of calming things down. Tucker came in and put ease to everybody’s mind.”
At least until the seventh.
Bentonville reliever Ryan Kneeshaw, a lefty, started the Bryant sixth with free passes to Tucker and Cameron Coleman. A balk moved them to second and third.
With one out, Tucker raced home on Chambers’ grounder to the right side, tying the game 5-5 then Greiner drilled a hit a high pop behind second base. It was in no-man’s-land. Bentonville second baseman Cade Lastovica back-pedaled out but when he reached for the ball, he lost his balance. Lastovica fell and so did the baseball. Greiner, hustling all the way, pulled into second with an RBI double that put the Hornets ahead.
Schmidt followed with a clutch RBI single to make it 7-5.
In the home half, Tucker allowed a lead-off single to Lastovica but when Adkins hit a grounder to Schmidt, the Bryant second baseman turned it into a doubleplay.
Cameron Duncan drew a walk to bring up the top of the order but Tucker struck out Kam’ron Mays-Hunt to send it to the seventh.
Clontz drew a lead-off walk and stole second on a pitch in the dirt. Tucker got a nice bunt down that Kneeshaw fielded up the third-base line. He whirled and fired an off-balance throw to first that was in the dirt and wide. The ball sailed into the right-field corner. Clontz scored to make it 8-5 and Tucker sprinted to third.
With one out, Bentonville brought in right-hander Justin Garrett but, on a 2-2 pitch, Wright drilled a sacrifice fly to center. Tucker crossed the plate with the ninth run.
After dashing around the bases, Tucker returned to the bump and started the home seventh by hitting Justin Hines with a pitch. But the side-winding right-hander fanned Nathan Lyons, who was 2-for-2 with a sacrifice fly to that point.
A single by Tyler Johnson kept the inning going, however. Kyle Knight popped to Schmidt and the Hornets were an out away from victory. Tucker was a strike away from ending it but his 0-2 delivery was swatted into the gap in right-center by Carson Coffey. A run scored and the potential tying run came to the plate in Lacostovica.
Though he didn’t tie it, he singled to drive in two runs, pulling the Tigers to within 9-8. With pinch runner Bryce Davis in for Lacostovica, Tharp made his trip to the mound. Tucker got ahead of Adkins 1-2. Though Adkins fouled off three two-strike deliveries, the next one rolled sharply to Schmidt’s right resulting in the game-ending force.
Bentonville had taken a 1-0 lead in the first when Hines singled and scored on a double by Lyons. But McEntire settled in and retired the next two to keep it 1-0.
In the top of the second, Chambers and Greiner cracked singles. Schmidt got a bunt down trying to sacrifice but Williams made a nice play to get a force on Chambers at third.
But Sandidge kept the inning going by beating out an infield hit. With the bases loaded and two away, Clontz drilled one to the right-field corner for the three-run triple.
Bentonville’s answer started with a single by Coffey. Lastovica walked and Adkins beat out a bunt for a hit to fill the sacks. An error allowed a run to score as Duncan reached. With one out, Hines was hit by a pitch to tie the game 3-3.
Heil relieved and retired Lyons. But his fly to center plated Adkins to put the Tigers ahead 4-3.
Duncan scored on a wild pitch as Johnson was working a walk but Heil picked him off first and it was 5-3 going into the third inning.
The Hornets loaded the bases with two down as Chambers singled, Greiner reached on an error and Schmidt walked but Williams worked out of the jam.
In the fourth, however, Hoover walked and, with one out, Tucker singled to center. Walks to Coleman and Wright forced in a run to trim the lead to 5-4. Chambers made a bid at an RBI hit but his liner to third was snagged.
Bentonville was retired in order for the only time in the game in the fourth. In the fifth, Tucker worked around a lead-off single to Lyons and a balk.
The Hornets threatened in the top of the fifth when a two-out walk to Sandidge and Hoover’s single to right brought Williams’ pitch count to the limit.
Kneeshaw relieved and Clontz made a bid for a hit but Lyons knocked the ball down at third and got a force on Sandidge.
That set up the game-turning three-run sixth and the nail-biting finish.