Photo courtesy of Tony Lenahan of The Saline Courier
If you’re going to tune up for the State tournament and some of the best teams in the state, you might as well play one of best teams in the state and that’s what the Bryant Hornets did for Senior Night 2018 on Tuesday.
As they celebrated seniors Myers Buck, Brandon Hoover, Matthew Sandidge and Scott Schmidt, the Hornets took on the defending Class 6A State champion Sheridan Yellowjackets, who have just about everybody back from that 2017 team. The Jackets, who finished runner-up in the 6A-South Conference tournament, are 27-5 now, after handing the Hornets a 4-0 loss.
Bryant takes a 20-9-1 record into the Class 7A State tournament at Burns Park in North Little Rock. The Hornets will play the opening game of the tournament as the 4 seed from the 7A-Central Conference, taking on the 5 seed from the 7A-West, Fayetteville at 10 a.m., on Thursday.
“Mike’s done a great job,” said Hornets head coach Travis Queck regarding Sheridan’s longtime head coach Mike Moore. “Those guys, they’ve got a chance to win it all in 6A.”
A trio of Sheridan pitchers limited the Hornets to three hits, singles by Logan Chambers, Coby Greiner and Schmidt.
“Our mentality is go and compete at the dish,” Queck said. “I thought we squared up some baseballs, some of which we squared up right at them. Obviously, we didn’t get the job done.”
The Bryant coach used the opportunity to get some work for four pitchers, Buck, Peyton Dillon, Logan Grant and Braden Knight. Sheridan, a heavy-hitting veteran team, had six hits but they included a solo homer by Hunter Hicks and a triple by Chance Wallingsford.
Asked if he was auditioning pitchers for a hoped-for third game at State this Saturday, Queck said, “Everybody’s on board right now. We wanted to get them primed up and ready for any opportunity. I thought all those guys came and competed right off the bat against a good team. You can look at the positives and we take the positives. If we happen to get by a game or two and we need to go deep into our pitching, that was a good to live off of, to go back and find a way to win.”
Last year, the Hornets surprised with wins over Springdale and Bentonville at State before running short of pitching in a 14-4 loss to eventual champion Cabot in the semifinals.
Against Sheridan, in the first, Hicks led off the game with his homer and Haydn Finley singled. He stole second and went to third on a wild pitch, but Buck and the Bryant defense kept it 1-0. Chambers made a sparkling play at first on a line drive then third baseman Logan Catton went high to haul down a chopper to get the second out. A more routine grounder to Catton ended the inning.
Bryant had runners on base in each of the first four innings against Jackets’ lefty Blake Moore (three innings) and right-hander Dalton Domrase.
In the home first, Chambers drew a walk and Greiner got a perfect push bunt past the pitcher on the right side, beating it out for a hit. Moore got Austin Ledbetter to pop to center then Jake Wright belted a deep fly to center that was flagged down by Nathan Kirkpatrick. Brandon Hoover bounced out to second to end the inning.
“I kick myself for not bunting in the first inning with runners on first and second,” Queck said. “Then the next guy (Wright) sac-flies to centerfield and that ties up the ballgame and maybe gives these guys a little bit more juice. That’s something I can’t do, put these guys in bad situations.”
Buck ran into a little hard luck in the second. Montana Korte singled cleanly up the middle then was sacrificed to second by Kirkpatrick. Domrase followed with a bouncer that was headed right to Greiner at short, but it took a bad hop over the shortstop’s head and into left. Korte scored to make it 2-0.
Tyler Cleveland grounded to Chambers at first. He threw to Greiner for the force at second, but Cleveland got down the line to avoid the inning-ending doubleplay.
Hicks followed with a sinking liner to left. Ledbetter charged in aggressively to try to catch the ball on the fly, but it got down and skipped past him. Cleveland scored from first to make it 3-0.
Buck got Finley to fly to Sandidge in center to end the frame.
In turn, Moore worked around Schmidt’s one-out single to center in the home second.
Dillon relieved in the third and, with two out, issued a walk to Justen Pruitt. But, with Korte at the plate, he picked Pruitt off first.
Chambers led off the bottom of the third with a solid single to right and Greiner bunted him to second. But Moore retired the next two and it stayed 3-0.
With the help of a tremendous diving catch in foul territory down the leftfield line by Gage Stark and a nice play by Schmidt at second, Dillon retired the side in order in the top of the fourth.
Against Domrase, Hoover reached on a third-strike wild pitch and, after two were out, Catton got aboard on a squibber to second that Hicks booted.
But a strikeout preserved the shutout.
Grant issued a walk to Cleveland to start the fifth and Wright threw him out trying to steal. Grant got Hicks and Finley on infield pops but, the Hornets were unable to get anything going against Domrase in the fifth or sixth.
In the top of the sixth, Wallingsford plugged the gap in right-center for a triple. After Grant fanned Tyler Cacciatori, Pruitt got a squeeze bunt down to get Wallingsford home to make it 4-0.
In the seventh, Braden Knight worked around a hit batsman with one out. Domrase took the base but, moments later, the Bryant right-hander picked him off. The inning ended with a grounder to Schmidt.
In the bottom of the seventh, Schmidt worked a walk. Catton followed with a grounder to short. Sheridan got the force but Catton beat the relay to first only to have the umpires cite Schmidt for interference at second for not sliding and Catton was ruled out as well. Cacciatori ended the game with a strikeout.
“I thought the pitching did all right,” Queck reiterated. “At times, they wavered but they didn’t just crumble.
“Defensively, I’d like to see a few more plays made,” he continued. “That could’ve been big. In big-time situations, in playoff games, those are made if you’re going to have success. We don’t want to hang our hat on the fantastic Sportscenter Top 10 play. We want to make the routine plays and, occasionally, you’re going to come across making a phenomenal play.
“We’ve got to go back to the basics and get prepared for Fayetteville,” he concluded.