Hornets rally past Benton to claim tournament championship
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continue posting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By ROB PATRICK
BENTON — Senior Todd Bryan’s speed — with his legs and his right arm — helped save the day for the Bryant Hornets when they captured the championship of the Benton Panthers Invitational Tournament by beating their hosts, 9-7, on Saturday, March 5.
After spotting the Panthers a 5-0 lead, the Hornets had rallied to tie the game at 6-6 by the top of the fifth. But Benton eked out a run in the bottom of the fifth and its 7-6 edge held until the top of the seventh.
Bryan opened the inning by walking for the fourth time in the game. Along with his fourth-inning single, Bryan had reached base five times in the game.
Aaron Davidson followed with a routine grounder to short but the speedy Bryan, with a great jump off second, beat second baseman Mark Lewis to the bag. Shortstop Matt Little couldn’t get there in time either and both Bryan and Davidson were safely aboard.
Justin Wells then sacrificed them to second and third. Travis Wood was walked intentionally to load the bases.
Benton’s Andy Ferguson, the third of the Panthers’ pitchers, struck out Richie Wood to bring his team within an out of victory. Zack Young came to the plate and took a strike. On the next pitch, Bryan took off from third. Young held his ground in the batter’s box despite a high and tight fastball from Ferguson. Freshman catcher Drew Simpson had to lunge to his left to snag the pitch and that was all that Bryan needed as he slid across the plate with the tying run.
“Really, I expected it,” Bryan said of the call for a steal. “The pitch before, that’s exactly what I was thinking. When I turned to coach (Terry Harper) to say something about it, he said something about it before I could.
“It was a decent jump,” he added. “I should’ve probably gone a step earlier but I thought I could get there easily and I did. I just made sure that I was on the plate first.”
Joey Winiecki, running for Davidson, and Travis Wood moved up a base on the play as well. Young took two more pitches out of the strike zone before drilling a 3-1 pitch to center. Winiecki and Wood both scored and Bryant led for the first time in the game, 9-7.
In the bottom of the inning, Davidson, who had relieved starter Corey Lambert in the third inning and stood to be the winning pitcher, issued a lead-off walk to Jordan Rogers. His first pitch to the next batter, Bennett James, was a ball and Harper called on Bryan to pitch.
Though the right-hander had led the team in saves last spring, a tender elbow had kept him off the mound since an inning of work on Feb. 25.
“It’s getting better,” Bryan said of the elbow. “I’ve been taking a break from it. We were probably not going to pitch me this week if we didn’t have to, that’s what coach told me, but it felt all right when I threw tonight.”
Bryan got two strikes in on James before he bounced a single up the middle to put the potential tying runs aboard. But that was the last sniff of a hit the Panthers got. Bryan proceeded to strike out the next three batters to nail down the save.
It was a crushing loss for the Panthers, who out-hit the Hornets 12-5 but committed four errors, issued 10 walks and hit three batters.
But Bryant stranded 13 runners, committed a couple of errors of its own, allowed two walks and three hit batsmen.
“All the way around, it was pretty ugly,” Harper allowed, “but, like I told them, everybody’s going to play their best against you every day. And that’s just preparing you for the long haul. I said, no matter how bad you play, you know you can win.
“Benton played well, they gave us a few things and we gave them a few things, but they hung in there and they battled,” Harper added. “We’re not playing not to get beat anymore. I think we did a couple of games earlier in the season but tonight even though we played bad early we hung in there and did what it takes.”
At one point, with his team trailing 6-1, Harper huddled his players up between innings and got a little appeared to be a little agitated.
“I pretty much told them I don’t care how much people have been telling you how good you are, you can’t just show up and be good,” he recalled. “You’ve got to prove it. You’ve got to prove it every day, every pitch, every at bat and we hadn’t been doing that. We just kind of go through the motions on some things. No one’s going to hand you anything.”
Benton scored four runs in the bottom of the first using three hits to take advantage of an error, two hit batters and a walk. In the second, an unearned run scored when Greg Noble was hit by a pitch with two out, Ferguson singled then Jim Sudderth slapped a base hit to left that was botched just enough that Noble scored. A relay from left to home to third retired Ferguson, however, to end the inning.
Bryant got on the board in the top of the third when Wells reached on an error. He took off for second on a pitch to Travis Wood who hit a bouncer to Ferguson at second. Ferguson took a look at second, thinking about the force but Wells was already almost there. And by the time he turned back to throw to first, Wood had sprinted through the bag.
Richie Wood’s tap to first moved the runners up and Young’s grounder to first brought home the run.
But Benton got the run back in the third on a one-out RBI triple by James. He, however, was stranded as Davidson got Simpson to pop to third before he struck out Wes Grant.
Travis Queck reached on a one-out error to start Bryant’s two-run fourth. Bryan singled him to third then Davidson drove in the run with a base hit to center. And when a throw to third to try to get Bryan was off target, he scored as well.
After Davidson pitched around a pair of singles in the bottom of the fourth, the Hornets tied it in the fifth. A one-out walk to Young got things going. Bryan Griffith beat out an infield hit then Lambert walked to load the bases for Queck, who was hit by a 2-2 delivery, forcing in a run.
Griffith scored on a wild pitch as Bryan drew a walk. After a pitching change, Davidson’s grounder to first was misplayed and Chris Lawrence, running for Lambert, crossed the plate with the tying tally.
It didn’t stay tied long, however. In the bottom of the inning, Rogers singled and, with one out, Simpson doubled. Pinch-hitter Caleb Poole plated the run with a sacrifice fly.
In the sixth, Noble reached on a third-strike wild pitch to give Benton a chance to add to the lead. But Ferguson was robbed of a hit on a lunging grab of a low liner to center by Richie Wood. Davidson then bounced off the mound to field a swinging bunt by Sudderth, throwing to first for the second out. Lewis popped out and the stage was set for Bryant’s game-winning rally.