PINE BLUFF — Each in its own way, the Bryant Hornets and the Pine Bluff Zebras played one last game before embarking on their respective State Tournament ventures. The two teams met at venerable Taylor Field on Monday night.
The Hornets, who will open the Class 7A tourney at Burns Park in North Little Rock on Friday at 10 a.m. as a 1 seed, against either Cabot or Rogers. Meanwhile, the Zebras, as a 3 seed, are set to open the 6A State tourney at Sheridan on Thursday at 10 a.m., against Mountain Home.
To get ready, Pine Bluff coach Rod Stinson used a different pitcher in each of the seven innings with two working in the seventh when the Hornets blew up a 7-2 lead with nine runs to make it a 16-2 rout. The onslaught was highlighted by Garrett Misenheimer’s grand slam. In addition, lead-off man Logan Allen had two of his three hits in the game during the seventh and drove in three of his four RBIs.
Bryant coach Kirk Bock worked three of his pitchers, Evan Lee, who was on schedule to pitch; Alex Shurtleff and Beaux Bonvillain. Another hurler who could play a role at State, Seth Tucker, started the JV game. Lee worked three innings and threw 45 pitches, holding the Zebras without a hit. Shurtleff threw 29 pitches and gave up a run on three hits in two frames then Bonvillain surrendered a run on one hit, tossing 41 deliveries over two innings.
The Zebras got shutout innings from starter Brandon Little, who pitched his team past defending Class 6A State champion Sheridan early last week; Braylen Jones in the third and Corey Jackson in the fifth.
The Hornets grabbed a 3-0 lead in the second. Jordan Gentry, who walked four times and drilled a one-hopper off the wall for a double, drew his first pass to start the frame. A balk by Pine Bluff’s Brandon Lowe allowed Gentry to advance to second. Jake East then beat out a bunt single to get Gentry to third. He scored on a passed ball and Aaron Orender was working a walk.
The uprising continued with Tucker bunting East and Orender up a base. Joey Cates’ sacrifice fly made it 2-0. Moments later, Allen singled up the middle to chase home Orender.
It went to the fourth with the Hornets up 3-0. Singles by Tucker and Cates opened the fourth, though Tucker was thrown out from right field as he tried to picked up third. Cameron Robertson made the strong throw.
Cates hustled to second on the throw through and, after Dylan Hurt earned a two-out walk, Evan Lee drilled a single to center. Cates scored and when the ball was misplayed in center, so did Jake Wright, who was in running for Hurt, the Bryant catcher.
Shurtleff was greeted in the fourth by Casey Higgins Jr. and Jaylon Deshazier, who each doubled to produce the Z’s first run. The Bryant right-hander limited the damage, however, forcing Pine Bluff to strand two.
Neither team scored in the fifth. Shurtleff’s effort was aided by a tremendous defensive play on the Bryant infield. Xavier Smith tried to bunt his way on to open the inning but Misenheimer charged in and made a nice play on the ball. His throw to first was wide, however. Orender, at first, switched feet on the first-base bag, and stretched into foul territory to catch the toss, holding his toe on the base just long enough to record the out.
In Bryant’s sixth, Allen drew a one-out walk, stole his second base of the game, and, with two out, Lee was issued an intentional pass. A wild pitch by Jordan O’Guinn allowed them to move up to second and third just in time for Misenheimer to crack a two-run single to right, making it 7-1.
Bonvillain relieved in the sixth for Bryant and retired the first two on a liner back to him and a strikeout. But a walk to Lowe was followed by a stolen base and an RBI double by O’Guinn to make it 7-2. A nice play on a chopper to short by East forced the Zebras to strand O’Guinn at second.
The Hornets’ barrage in the top of the seventh was ignited by Orender’s single to left. Tucker and Cates earned walks to load the bases. Allen ripped a double inside the third-base back to plate two and, after Hurt drew hit third walk, Lee hit a towering fly to left. Smith went back to the wall but the ball hit off of it. Because everyone was tagging up only Cates was able to score and Lee just got a single.
A pitch later, however, Misenheimer drilled one over the boards in left-center for the grand slam, making it 14-2.
When Robertson, the seventh Pine Bluff pitcher, issued a walk to Gentry, he gave way to lefty Malik Isaiah. But he walked East and, with one out, surrendered an RBI single to pinch-hitter Scott Schmidt. Allen’s third hit chased in the final run. Dylan Singleton made a bid for a hit but a good play by Jones at short brought the inning to an end.
Bonvillain struck out the first two in the bottom of the seventh then got Jones to bounce out to Misenheimer at third to end the game.
The Hornets conclude the regular season with a 27-2 record.