Hornets vanquish Van Buren, lock up 2-seed at State

VAN BUREN — The Bryant Hornets did their part but they didn’t get the help they needed to earn a share of the lead among 7A teams in the 7A/6A-Central Conference. Conway edged Little Rock Catholic, 3-1, so the Wampus Cats will be the No. 1 seed from the league for the Class 7A State Tournament, which begins in Bentonville on Thursday, May 14.

The Hornets, after their 8-0 win over Van Buren on Tuesday night, will be the second seed from the Central. They’ll open play in defense of their 2014 State crown on Thursday, May 14, at 12:30 p.m., against the No. 5 seed from the West Conference, which could still be Fort Smith Southside, Rogers Heritage or Springdale Har-Ber, depending on how their games went Tuesday night. Bryant will be on the same side of the bracket as the top seed from the East, North Little Rock or Cabot. Conway and West champion Fayetteville will be on the other side of the bracket.

Bryant stunned Fayetteville, 10-0, in the State championship game last year. Fayetteville head coach Vance Arnold and an assistant attended the Hornets’ game at Van Buren as well as their game at Conway last week.

In the win over the Pointers, Blaine Knight and Jason Hastings combined on the three-hit shutout.

It was the 11th shutout of the season for Hornets’ pitchers, lowering the team earned run average to a miniscule 1.17 as the team improved their record to 25-2 overall, 10-2 in conference play, 4-2 against 7A teams.

Knight improved to 6-1. He’s now pitched in nine games, 51 2/3 innings and his strikeout to walk ratio is phenomenal. He’s fanned 69 and walked just three.

At the plate, the Hornets knocked out Van Buren ace Taylor Anders, who was on the mound on short rest after going the distance in a tough 1-0 loss to Catholic the previous Friday. Bryant hammered out 10 hits including two each from Jason Hastings, Garrett Misenheimer, Trey Breeding and Brandan Warner.

Hastings, who was moved up from the nine hole to the five spot in the line-up, continued his scorching pace of late. Coming into the contest, he was 5 for 6 with a walk, three runs and two RBIs over the last two games. Against Van Buren, he was 2 for 4 with a run scored. That makes him 7 of 10 over three games.

In fact, it was Hastings that began the first of Bryant’s two four-run uprisings. He singled to left to start the second inning. Evan Lee followed with a base-hit to right. Dylan Hurt got a sacrifice bunt down that was fielded by Pointers’ first baseman Ty Callahan. But, instead of taking the easy out at first, Callahan made an ill-advised throw to third trying to get Hastings. Not only was the throw late, it was wild resulting in the game’s first run.

Misenheimer followed with a single to the right of Callahan that drove in two. Connor Tatum sacrificed Misenheimer to second and, with two down, Warner and Breeding smacked singles to bring him around, capping off the inning.

In the fourth, Misenheimer got the second four-run burst underway with a gapper to right-center for a double. Tatum got another sacrifice bunt down and reached when Anders misplayed the ball.

With runners at the corners, Drew Tipton grounded into a doubleplay. But Misenheimer scored to make it 5-0.

Warner got things revved up again with a single to left and a stolen base. Breeding singled again, chasing Warner to third. With Blake Patterson at the plate, Logan Allen, running for Breeding, drew a pick-off throw from Anders. He took off for second and drew a throw from Callahan. That gave Warner time to sprint home where he beat the relay, making it 6-0.

Patterson drove in Allen with a double to right-center. That spelled the end for Anders after 88 pitches. Noah Miller relieved and Hastings greeted him with a single. Moments later, Hastings stole second, drew a throw from catcher Hunter Hogan, allowing Patterson to swipe home to make it 8-0.

Miller walked Lee but then retired the next 10 in a row to finish out the game. But the Pointers couldn’t get much going offensively.

Knight retired the first six batters then gave up a scratch hit to Dalton Kelley on a chopper over the mound. But Knight retired the next six, making a nice play on a sharp comebacker off the bat of Zed Steinmetz to end the third.

Tipton, who was busy all game, made a splendid diving catch in shallow left center to retire Jake Bogner to start the fourth.

Knight, who picked up a save with two innings of relief on Friday in the Hornets’ 8-7 win at Conway, gave way to Hastings in the fifth after throwing just 50 pitches.

Hastings was greeted by a single from Conner Caton and a double by Anders but neither of them budged from their respective perches at second and third as the Bryant lefty proceeded to retire the side on a pair of bouncers to Patterson at first and a pop up to Hurt at short.

He would close it out by retiring nine in a row. Tipton chased down three drives to the outfield out of the final four outs. To end the sixth, he robbed Spencer Rapin of extra bases.

Hastings ended it by striking out Anders.

The loss knocked the Pointers out of the post-season. They close out their season with a doubleheader against Russellville on Friday.

Bryant will finish the conference slate with a twinbill against 6A Greenwood on Friday. It will be Senior Night. They’ll have a final tune-up for State against El Dorado at Arkadelphia next week.

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