CONWAY — It’s pretty good when you come into a game with a miniscule team earned run average of 1.14, you throw five pitchers and you lower it.
But that’s just what the Bryant Hornets did in a final tune-up before the Class 7A State Tournament for them and before the Class 6A State Tournament for the El Dorado Wildcats. Zach Jackson, Alex Shurtleff, Evan Lee, Blake Patterson and Jason Hastings combined to allow just four hits and one earned run in an 8-2 win.
The Hornets backed them with nine hits including three from sophomore Dylan Hurt, who drove in two runs.
The game was originally planned for Monday at Ouachita Baptist University’s field in Arkadelphia but heavy rains prevented that. Bryant head coach Kirk Bock arranged with University of Central Arkansas coach Alan Gum to play it on the Bears’ all artificial surface and El Dorado coach Sam Tyler agreed to make the longer trip.
Bryant opens defense of its 2014 Class 7A State championship against the Rogers Heritage War Eagles at Bentonville High School this Thursday at noon. Bentonville, which would be the Hornets’ second round opponent if they win on Thursday, had coaches scouting at Tuesday’s game.
El Dorado begins play at the 6A tournament in Texarkana on Thursday at 3 p.m., against the Searcy Lions.
“This was good for us and it was good for them,” said Bock. “I talked to Sam afterwards and they got out of it what they needed to, just work. And we did too. For the most part, I thought we did what we needed to do. I’m glad we could make it happen.
“I thought we swung it fine,” he noted. “We only struck out three times. I thought we had some timely hits when we needed them. We executed the short game very well, which is good.
“We had a couple of errors,” the coach said. “On both of them we just didn’t come get a hop and we rushed the throws when we had plenty of time.”
Both of the errors came in the third inning and produced the first El Dorado run after Bryant had taken a 3-0 lead.
Jackson, in his second varsity appearance after rehabilitating from “Tommy John” surgery, worked around an infield hit and a walk in the first, helping himself by picking off the lead runner, Keenan Hicks.
El Dorado used six pitchers and only starter Caleb Stutts pitched without giving up a run. He worked a 1-2-3 home first.
In the second, Shurtleff retired the Wildcats in order then the Hornets grabbed a 2-0 lead. Jason Hastings walked and Lee yanked a single to right. Hurt’s base hit through the hole into left chased home Hastings.
Garrett Misenheimer lined out to Hicks at short, which looked like it might end the inning. Hurt broke from first and was nearly doubled off. But Hicks’ throw was wild allowing Lee to take third and Hurt to advance to second.
Connor Tatum followed with a bunt single that got Lee home.
After El Dorado cut it to 2-1 with the unearned run in the top of the third, the Hornets got it back when Brandan Warner hit a hot one-hopper to second that ricocheted off the shin of the Wildcats’ Blake Cunningham. A wild pitch allowed Warner to take second then he sprinted home on Patterson’s sharp single to right.
Singles by Jacob Prim and Joseph Boshears put El Dorado in position to scored again the top of the fourth. Brennan Smith hit a grounder just fair down the third-base line that Warner ranged over and fielded. With a strong throw to first, Smith was retired as courtesy runner Josh Perry scored.
The Wildcats only had one base-runner after that. Evan Chandler singled to lead off the fifth against Patterson but was thrown out trying to steal by Hornets’ catcher Trey Breeding.
Patterson retired the next two then Hastings retired all six of the batters he faced, including five on strikeouts to close out the win.
The Hornets expanded the 3-2 lead in the fourth when Hurt and Misenheimer each singled, Tatum got a squeeze bunt down to plate Hurt and, after Drew Tipton singled Misenheimer to third, Warner lined an RBI hit to center to make it 5-2.
In the fifth, walks to Patterson and Hastings set the table for another two-run frame. Hurt singled in another run then Misenheimer got the squeeze bunt down to increase the lead to 7-2.
In the sixth, Warner was hit by a pitch and stole second. Patterson walked with one out then they worked a double steal. A wild pitch allowed Warner to score the last run.