By Rob Patrick
It’s interesting to note that defending Class 6A State champion Lake Hamilton returned most of its starting lineup including[more] three top pitchers — Chris Oldner, Cody Jackson and Levi Runyan — from last season and won the 6A-South Conference. Meanwhile, the defending Class 7A State champion Bryant Hornets returned only three starters and neither of its top pitchers — one, Ben Wells, due to graduation; the other, Blake Davidson, due to injury — and also won a conference title, in the 7A-Central.
Both are to be commented. Both are headed back to their respective State tourneys with designs on repeating. Both open State this Saturday. Bryant plays at noon on Saturday in Fort Smith against the winner of the Friday’s Springdale Har-Ber vs. Cabot game. Lake Hamilton also plays at noon in Marion against the winner of a first-round game between Marion and Pine Bluff.
And, on Monday night at Bryant High School Field, they tuned up for the looming win-or-go-home challenge with a game between each other.
Both teams used three pitchers. For Lake Hamilton, it was those primary three who combined to shut out the Hornets for the first time this season, 7-0. They scattered eight hits and a pair of walks as Bryant stranded 11 runners in the contest.
For Bryant, head coach Kirk Bock started senior Caleb Milam, who was the ace of his staff early in the season, but has been struggling lately in part due to nagging aches. It didn’t help either that he had to warm up a couple of times in the hour-long wait for the umpires. But, as Bock pointed out, the other team had to wait too.
Otherwise, Bock used the opportunity to get some game action on the mound for sophomore Tyler Nelson and freshman Wesley Akers. Nelson struggled but Akers was impressive. He worked out of a bases-loaded jam with no one out in the fourth and wound up allowing only one hit and an unearned run over the final three frames.
“I thought Wesley did a great job,” Bock stated.
“But it was just a bad day at the office,” he added. “We didn’t have a good night. And that happens. We just weren’t clicking on all cylinders.
“Both teams had eight hits but they had a few louder ones than we had,” noted the coach. “And we walked six. Three of those scored.”
Lake Hamilton grabbed an early 2-0 lead to start the game. Tyler Bradshaw doubled to lead-off the first. He was sacrificed to second then Runyan belted a home run to center.
Carter Greathouse followed with an infield hit and Dalton Daniels reached on an error. Oldner walked but then Milam got Jackson to bounce to Tyler Brown at third for a force at the plate. Will Harris bounced to Nelson at second for the third out.
It looked the like the Hornets would answer immediately when Brown singled and Jordan Taylor hit a gapper for the double with one down. But Brown was tagged out trying to score on a grounder to short off the bat of Landon Pickett. Lucas Castleberry lined out to center and Oldner had wriggled off the hook.
It would be that kind of game for the Hornets who wound up with just as many hits as the Wolves. There just weren’t any in the clutch.
Lake Hamilton made it 3-0 in the second. After Milam struck out the first two batters, Tyler Faught singled to left. Runyan’s grounder to third drew a wild throw to first and Faught scored. With Greathouse at the plate, Milam picked Runyan off second to end the inning.
Oldner pitched around a one-out single by Josh Pultro in the bottom of the inning and, in the third, got out of a bases-loaded situation to preserve the shutout. Brown reached on an error, Taylor walked and Castleberry singled sharply to right. But he was forced out at second on a grounder by Chris Joiner to retire the side.
In between, the Wolves tacked on a pair of runs. Greathouse and Daniels drew walks and Oldner sacrificed them into scoring position. Jackson bounced back to Milam who turned to check on courtesy runner Andrew Seymore at third. Seymore had come up the line a bit and Milam tried to catch him scrambling back to the bag but Brown couldn’t handle the throw cleanly and Seymore slid around the outside to get back to the base.
With the bases loaded and one out, Milam struck out Harris and had an 0-2 count on Randy Young. That 0-2 delivery found too much of the strike zone and Young pulled it down the left-field line for a two-run double to make it 5-0.
Nelson relieved in the top of the fourth. Faught walked then Runyan and Greathouse singled him around. A walk to Daniels loaded the bases and Akers was called upon to relieve.
He got Oldner on an infield fly then induced a two-ball from Jackson that went Taylor to Ozzie Hurt to Pickett at first.
The freshman would work a 1-2-3 fifth then issue his lone walk to start the sixth. Runyan grounded to Taylor at short for a force. Hurt tried to relay to first for a doubleplay but the throw was off-line and Runyan was able to scramble to second. Akers fanned Greathouse — the only time he was retired in the game — but Daniels pulled a single into right to drive in pinch-runner Mason Chapmond, making it 7-0.
Meanwhile, Jackson had relieved Oldner in the fourth and worked around a lead-off walk to Pultro. In the fifth, there were two down before Pickett singled. Runyan took over in the sixth and worked around a two-out walk to Tyler Green.
In the seventh, Akers had another 1-2-3 inning and the bottom of the inning proved to be indicative of the Hornets’ night at the plate. With one out, Brown, Taylor and Pickett each singled to load the bases but a pop to second and fly to left ended the game.
Afterward, the seniors were honored, Brown, Castleberry, Davidson, Jobe, Joiner, Milam and Pickett.
LAKE HAMILTON 7, BRYANT 0
Wolves ab r h bi Hornets ab r h bi
Bradshaw, rf 2 1 1 0 Nelson, 2b-p 2 0 0 0
Lipton, rf 2 0 0 0 Hurt, 2b 2 0 0 0
Faught, lf 1 2 1 0 Brown, 3b 4 0 2 0
Runyan, ss-p 4 1 2 2 Taylor, ss 3 0 2 0
Chapmond, pr 0 1 0 0 Pickett, 1b 4 0 2 0
Greathouse, c 3 0 2 1 Castleberry, dh 4 0 1 0
Seymore, cr 0 2 0 0 Joiner, lf 4 0 0 0
Daniels, cf 2 1 1 1 Pultro, cf 2 0 1 0
Oldner, p-3b-ss 2 0 0 0 Jobe, rf 2 0 0 0
Jackson, 1b-p 4 0 0 0 Green, rf 0 0 0 0
Harris, 3b 3 0 0 0 Lessenberry, c 3 0 0 0
Curry, 1b 1 0 0 0 Milam, p 0 0 0 0
Young, 2b 4 0 1 2 Akers, p 0 0 0 0
Totals 28 7 8 6 Totals 30 0 8 0
Lake Hamilton 212 101 0 — 7
BRYANT 000 000 0 — 0
E—Taylor, Pickett, Harris, Hurt. DP—Bryant 1. LOB—Lake Hamilton 8, Bryant 11. 2B—Bradshaw, Taylor, Young. HR—Runyan. S—Oldner, Faught.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Oldner 3 0 0 4 1 1
Jackson (W) 2 0 0 1 1 2
Runyan 2 0 0 3 1 0
Milam (L, 6-4) 3 4 3 5 3 3
Nelson 0 1 1 2 2 0
Akers 4 1 0 1 1 2
Nelson faced four batters in the fourth.