Opportunistic Hornets clip rivals for tournament title
EDITOR’S NOTE: In this time of COVID-19, with no sports action, BryantDaily.com will be 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
The best teams find a way to win.
For most of this season, the Bryant Hornets have been finding a way with their hitting, along with solid if unspectacular pitching and a defense that was sometimes good, sometimes not.
But, on Tuesday, May 1, the Hornets managed just three hits against Benton Panthers’ right-hander Nathan Moore in the championship of the AAAAA-South Conference Tournament.
They became the best team nonetheless.
The 2001 Hornets became the first in the impressive history of the program to win a conference tournament title with a 6-3 win behind the “bulldog” pitching effort of senior lefty Brad Chism, an opportunistic offense, and a defense on one of those good nights.
The win was Bryant’s 20th of the season and assured the Hornets the league’s top seed at the Class AAAAA State Tournament in Cabot beginning Saturday, May 5. They will take on the Bentonville Tigers from the rugged AAAAA-West at 2:30 p.m., Saturday.
Chism had one rough inning, the fifth when Benton scored all three of its runs and threatened to get more. But he protected the lead that the Hornets had claimed with four runs without a hit in the home third. He then retired eight of the last nine he faced and his teammates, who didn’t have a hit against Moore until the fifth, added a pair of insurance runs.
Designated hitter Matt Lewis and first baseman Derik Chambers stepped up with clutch two-out hits to spark the sixth. Chambers knocked in a run and Lewis scored the second tally on a wild pitch.
“I’m very proud of the way these guys pulled together and hung in there,” said head coach Terry Harper, who was member of some pretty good Hornets teams during his high school career. “They’ve been through a little bit of adversity. We lost a few guys early on to grades and to injury and they’ve just hung in there. They’ve battled and they’ve believed. They kept working and good things are happening for them. I’m very pleased with what we’ve accomplished so far.
“We set a series of goals,” he added. “One was to finish first or second in the conference, preferably first, but we wanted to make sure we at least got second and got into the state tournament. Then, to get ourselves seeded in the best situation going into the state tournament, which we did and now our ultimate goal, of course, is to win the state tournament. And they believe. They’ll be tough to beat if they play like they have been.”
Chism was almost overwhelmed afterwards. “This is my last game as a senior at our home field,” he noted. “I’m a little emotional right now. I feel like I could cry any minute. I’m just happy to be out here with my friends. This is the first time Bryant has won the conference tournament. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
“Our hitting took a bit of a back seat to our pitching and defense tonight,” Harper commented. “Brad did a heck of a job out there, threw strikes when we needed him to. He had one pitch tonight that he was getting over for a strike and he used it to his advantage. It was his fastball. His curve, he had it every now and then. He was a competitor.”
Chism, who improved to 7-2 got a lift in the second inning after issuing his only walk to Kevin Ashworth. Ross Rankin, trying to sacrifice, didn’t get his bunt far enough out onto the field. Catcher Cody Graddy pounced on it, fired to second to get the speedy Ashworth on the force. Shortstop Matt Brown then whipped the ball to first to complete an eye-popping doubleplay.
In the second, Chism worked around the Hornets’ only error, stranding a runner at third. He helped himself by knocking down a liner off the bat of Josh Charette, scrambling after the ball and firing to first for the out by half a step.
Bryant’s third harkened back to the Hornets’ regular-season win over Benton. In the previous game, the Panthers committed five errors in an inning that turned into a 10-run nightmare for them. This time, they committed three as Bryant scored four times. The first miscue came on Chamber’s one-hopper to short. Zack Martin then worked for a walk. Lead-off man Matt White followed with a push bunt to try to sacrifice. The bunt almost got past Moore, who scrambled off the mound, but even though he got to it, he couldn’t make the play and the bags were loaded.
Brandon Nichols hit a grounder to short and Charette came home, hoping for a force on B.J. Wood, who was runner for Chambers. But the throw was in the dirt and wide of the plate and both Wood and Martin were able to score.
Dustin Morris made it 3-0 with a sacrifice fly on which Nichols alertly tagged and went to third. That enabled him to score on Matt Brown’s groundout to short.
Chism fanned the first batter in the fifth but then surrendered consecutive singles to Moore, Brian Duke and Charette as Benton got its first run.
He then hit Jamie Fugitt with a pitch to load the bases. After a visit from Harper and Graddy, he got Clint Phifer on a fly to right that scored a run then gave up an RBI single to Bryan Greer. That brought up Ashworth, the Benton clean-up hitter. Chism got him to fly to right to end the inning with the potential tying and go-ahead runs left on the bases.
“I was a little nervous,” Chism allowed. “They started hitting me. I thought they might’ve got onto me. I finally just came to the top. Cody came out and calmed me down. Coach Harper always tells me to be a bulldog so I became a bulldog, got out there and got the job done.
“My curveball wasn’t working very much, so I was mainly throwing my fastball,” he added. “They were getting under it. I just got out there and tried to work ahead (in the count). I just had great defense behind me. That’s the best I’ve seen us play all year.”
The only baserunner Benton could manage the rest of the way was Fugitt, who singled with two down in the seventh. But Chism got Phifer to ground out to Martin at third to end the game and start the celebration.