Hornets suffer first loss against nationally-ranked Niceville, Fla. (Photos added)

Bryant catcher B.J. Ellis scoops a low pitch out of the dirt during Tuesday's game against Niceville, Fla. (Photo by Phil Pickett)NICEVILLE, Fla. — The Bryant Hornets and the Niceville, Fla., Eagles both came into Tuesday’s opener in the Northwest Florida Powerade Classic unbeaten. But the Eagles, with six players that have already committed to play Division I college ball and a seventh — their starting pitcher Hunter Phillips — who is still contemplating his offers, were ranked No. 9.

Not in their state, mind you, but in the nation.

“They had some of the biggest human beings I’ve seen in my life,” declared Bryant head coach Kirk Bock. “I ain’t lyin’. They had four kids on their team that were 6’6”; 6’4”’s were nothing. It looked like a team of full-grown men.”

But the Hornets, behind some stingy pitching from senior right-hander Ben Wells, played even with them most of the way only to suffer a 2-0 loss. Niceville improved to 10-0 while Bryant fell to 11-1.[more]

Bryant's Ben Wells. (Photo by Phil Pickett)

In a JV game, the two teams battled to a 4-4 tie through nine innings before the two-out time limit expired.

In the varsity game, the Hornets were held to one hit, a first-inning single by Hunter Mayall that came on the heels of a one-out walk to Garrett Bock. Both, however, were stranded. Brennan Bullock popped out and Jordan Taylor hit a hard grounder right at the second baseman to end the inning.

It was the only time the Hornets put two runners on base in one frame.

The game was scoreless until Niceville managed an unearned run in the fifth.

“Ben just did a tremendous job,” Coach Bock stated. “He spread out five hits, didn’t walk anyone and struck out 10.”

Parker Willingham doubled with two out in the bottom of the fifth just barely beating the throw from the outfield at second as Bock cut the ball off in the gap.

“G did a great job but that dude was just to dad-gummed fast, he got a double,” Coach Bock related. “And it was bang-bang at second.”

Wells and the Hornets appeared to be out of the inning on a grounder to first baseman Brady Butler. He flipped to Wells covering first in time but the pitcher dropped the ball and Willingham, running all the way with two down, scored the game’s first run.

The Hornets made a bid to tie it in the bottom of the inning when Bock drew another walk.

“We’ve got a little play where we start the runner at first and our hitter’s going to drag it to the third baseman,” the coach explained. “It was executed perfectly. Mayall got the bunt down and we read the shortstop and went to third. It was a foot race between the catcher and G to third and the first baseman threw a strike on the run and doubled us up.

“Right after that, Bullock hits one and, if the infield would’ve been drawn in (with a runner at third), it would’ve gotten through,” he added. “The second baseman made a great play on the ball to throw Bullock out. That would’ve tied the game up.

Tyler Nelson delivers a pitch in the Bryant JV game Tuesday. (Photo by Phil Pickett)

“We executed extremely well and they did too,” Bock stated. “It was just a great game. It lasted only about an hour and 20 minutes.”

The Eagles would add their second run in the bottom of the sixth when, with two out and an 0-2 count against a batter that Wells had already fanned twice in the game, Michael Coelho cracked a solo homer.

Niceville had threatened to score in the third when, with a runner at second, a grounder was hit to Chris Joiner at second.

“Joiner’s throw pulled Brady off the bag (at first),” Bock related. “They tried to score from second but Butler threw a strike to the dish and threw him out.”

The Hornets will return to action in pool play on Wednesday at 3 p.m., at Crestview High School. On Thursday, they’ll take on Shoals Christian at 1 to complete pool play. The top pool teams will play in a championship tournament on Friday.

“Niceville is a class act,” Bock stated. “They do a great job. They’ve got all those D-I players and they’ve got eight kids playing pro ball right now. And we played right there with them.”

In the JV game, the Hornets were led by Cameron Price who went 4 of 4 and Tyler Nelson who had two hits and three runs batted in.

The Hornets led much of the game. They scored two in the first when, with one out, Landon Pickett walked, Price doubled and Nelson singled both home.

In the top of the third, Pickett again drew a one-out walk. Price singled and Nelson delivered an RBI single to make it 3-0.

Niceville got a run in the home third on a walk, a single and, with two down, another walk and a hit batsman.

Bryant held the 3-1 lead until the bottom of the seventh, when a two-run homer tied it.

The game went to the ninth when the Hornets regained the advantage. Price was hit by a pitch and pinch-runner Caleb Garrett scored when Nelson’s drive to right was misplayed.

But another homer in the bottom of the ninth tied it as time ran out.

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