LITTLE ROCK — The Bryant Hornets needed that one.
A day after a gut-punch loss to arch-rival Conway in the semifinals of the Central Arkansas Invitational Tournament, the Hornets came from behind to disappoint the Sylvan Hills Bears, 2-1, in the third-place game at Lamar Porter Field on Saturday.
Scott Schmidt ripped a one-hop shot off the glove of Bears’ third baseman Chaz Poppy, who made a diving attempt at the ball, and Austin Ledbetter scored the game-winning run with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Said Hornets’ head coach Travis Queck: “I was worried we’d carry that last one with us but, you know what? They came back with some energy and some vigor. The guys did a good job of stepping up to the challenge.
“The thing we kept pointing out at the end of the game was, we were hitting hard groundballs,” he noted. “We were hitting one-hoppers, two-hoppers. They were just making the plays.”
The Hornets got splendid pitching from Logan Grant and Myers Buck who combined to hold the Bears to five hits with two walks and eight strikeouts. Each threw four innings.
“Those guys threw great,” Queck asserted. “I was really pleased with both Logan and Myers. Logan had a couple of walks, but both were on 3-2 counts. Myers kept pounding the zone.”
Grant and Sylvan Hills’ lefty Brandon Withrow engaged in a pitchers’ duel for four innings. Withrown wound up going five shutout innings. Buck, who relieved Grant who was making his first varsity start on the mound, pitched around a two-out bunt single in the fifth to Payton Terry, the only hit he allowed. After a balk moved the runner to second, lead-off man Kyle Clayton hit a fly into the gap in right-center. But centerfielder Coby Greiner chased it down and made the catch to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth, Withrow, a soft-tosser who mixed a curve and a change and only occasionally used a fastball, continued to keep the Hornets off balance, retiring the side in order to extend a streak of seven in a row he set down.
On the first pitch of the sixth, the Bears’ Ryan Lumpkin drilled a home run over the high fence in right center to break up the duel shutout. Buck, obviously upset, got behind in the count but, after a visit from pitching coach Stephen Tharp, settled down and retired the side.
“I was proud of the way Myers overcame that and got locked in again,” Queck said. “That was great to see.”
Withrow extended his streak of nine straight before Peyton Dillon worked a two-out walk in the bottom of the sixth. A free pass to Jake Wright was followed by an RBI single off Poppy’s glove by Ledbetter to tie the game.
Another walk to Greiner loaded the bases and the Bears turned to hard-throwing right-hander Ryan Young. Brandon Hoover made a bid for a hit, but shortstop Gage Taylor got to the ball in the hole and was able to throw to Poppy at third for an inning-ending force.
The game went to the seventh tied 1-1. Young led off the top of the inning with a single to right but courtesy runner Connor Young was thrown out at second when Buck bounced off the mound to field Taylor’s bunt quickly.
He then struck out pinch-hitter Hunter Allen and, with a 1-1 count on Terry, picked Taylor off first.
The Hornets then made a bid to win it in the home half. Logan Chambers singled to left for his second knock of the game. Schmidt was hit with a pitch and Matthew Sandidge smacked a single to left to load the bags. However, Ray Young managed to get Dillon to top a ball to third. Poppy charged and threw home for a force. He then struck out Wright to escape.
In turn, Buck worked around a two-out infield hit by Lumpkin with the help of a nice play at third by Logan Catton on a high hopper off Poppy’s bat.
Ledbetter opened the bottom of the eighth with a sharp grounder to the right of Taylor at short. He booted the ball and the Hornets appeared to be in business. Griener got a sacrifice bunt down to move Ledbetter into scoring position then Hoover drew a walk.
After Grayson Prince came on to run for Hoover, Catton fanned on a borderline strike to bring up Chambers, whom the Bears decided to walk intentionally despite pushing Ledbetter, with the potential winning run, to third.
And, sure enough, on a 1-1 pitch to Schmidt, the Bryant senior came through.
Over the first four innings, Grant got better as he went along. He appeared to have the first two batters of the game struck out, but Lumpkin reached on catcher’s interference as his third-strike swing ticked Wright’s mitt. But he got Poppy to ground into a 6-4-3 doubleplay.
In the second, a walk to Nick Fakouri and a single by Jason Neely put two aboard. An errant pick-off throw put runners at second and third.
But Grant fanned Young and got Taylor to tap one to Hoover, who threw home to nab courtesy runner Stone Stanley trying to score.
Grant finished the inning with another strikeout. He then worked around a lead-off walk to Terry in the third and wound up retiring the last six batters he faced including the last two on strikes as he finished with six in four frames. He threw 59 pitches.
The Hornets, meanwhile, had runners in scoring position in the first and the third. Chambers opened the bottom of the first with a single to right and Schmidt sacrificed him to second only to have Withrow wriggle off the hook with a pair of strikeouts.
In the third, Catton rocketed a single up the middle to snap a string of seven set down in succession. Chambers was hit by a pitch then was forced at second on Schmidt’s grounder to short. A walk to Sandidge loaded the bases but, again, Withrow escaped when Dillon hit a one-hopper back to the mound.
It was the 10th win of the season for the Hornets. They’ll return to 7A-Central Conference action on Tuesday at home against Little Rock Central.