Photos by Rick Nation
By Rob Patrick
SHERIDAN — In their 27 games this season, the Bryant Hornets have only allowed an opponent[more] to score more than two runs in a game on only five occasions and the last time was over a month ago when they were putting together a 6-1 run through a national tournament in Florida. In the 13 games since their 14-7 win over Lutheran South of St. Louis on March 19, the Hornets have surrendered just 11 runs.
On Thursday, senior ace Nate Rutherford and the Hornets defense blanked the Sheridan Yellowjackets on five hits. It was the third shutout in a row for Bryant pitching and the fifth whitewash in the last nine games.
The 4-0 win at Oliver Williams Field improved the Hornets to 22-5 overall and 10-1 in the South Conference. Entering the game, they trailed only Fayetteville in the point standings of the 7A-West, where Bryant will be seeded for the Class 7A State Tournament in Rogers. The top two seeds earn a first-round bye so the Hornets retain their spot with Bentonville on their tail.
A maximum run-differential of five runs goes towards the Hornets’ point standings and they fell short of that by a run but they retained the inside track for a conference championship, which would garner an additional 10 points. (Bryant’s tied with Benton for the South lead but has the tiebreaker advantage.)
Thursday’s game was a duel between Rutherford and Sheridan right-hander Keaton Ramsey. Bryant scratched out single runs in the first and third and it stayed a tense 2-0 game until the Hornets added a pair of runs in the top of the seventh to ease that tension a bit.
“I thought we didn’t play very well offensively,” commented Hornets coach Kirk Bock. “Defensively, we did okay until right at the end.”
Bryant suffered a pair of errors on the same play in the bottom of the seventh allowing Sheridan’s Tadd Daggett to reach second. But he never got any further as Rutherford induced a pair of grounders to third baseman Brandan Warner to end it.
“I thought Nate did a good job,” Bock stated. “I tell our pitchers, if you go out there and you don’t have your best stuff and we win, you’re getting close to being a good pitcher. We went out and didn’t play our best but we still won. That’s a mark of a good team.”
Rutherford retired the first eight batters he faced with first baseman Ty Harris contributing a sparkling over-the-shoulder catch of a foul pop down the right-field line.
The Hornets grabbed the lead in the first when Tyler Green, who was on base three times, was hit by a pitch and stole second. Trevor Ezell, who was also on base three times, reached on an error and, with Green at third, swiped second as well. Marcus Wilson delivered the run with a sacrifice fly.
With Ezell at third, the Hornets put on a safety squeeze but Ramsey jumped off the mound and made a nice play on Hayden Lessenberry’s bunt and got it to Daggett at the plate just in time for the tag.
In the third, Green drew a one-out walk and Ezell plugged the gap in left-center. Green sprinted home, sliding in ahead of the relay as Ezell made it to third.
Ramsey set down the next two Hornets as Ezell was stranded but the Hornets had their 2-0 lead.
Sheridan managed its first hits in the bottom of the third. With two out, Garrett Williams bounced one up the middle and Reese Lisenbey pulled one through the hole into left. But Rutherford got Chase Davis to bounce to short for a force at second.
In the fourth, Hayden Daniel singled but was thrown out trying to steal second. Harris walked but Sheridan turned a doubleplay to end the inning.
Hunter Strong and Wyatt Daggett led off the bottom of the inning with singles for Sheridan. Lathan Wylie tried to bunt them up a base but Rutherford got to the ball in time to fire to third and get a force.
Tadd Daggett followed with a fly to shallow left that Wilson tracked down and, with the runner at second apparently forgetting how many outs there were and taking off on contact, Wilson was able to throw in to Korey Thompson at second for the inning-ending doubleplay.
Ramsey pitched around a two-out single by Green in the fifth and a one-out double by Lessenberry in the sixth. Rutherford worked a 1-2-3 fifth then worked around a two-out single by Strong in the sixth.
The seventh inning began with a walk to Harris. Thompson sacrificed him to second and, on the next pitch, Warner yanked a liner into the left-field corner for an RBI double.
A walk to pinch-hitter Drew Tipton followed and, with two out and two strikes, Ezell swatted an RBI single to right to make it 4-0. Tipton took third and Ezell second on the late throw to the plate giving Bryant the chance for that fifth run but they were stranded.
“That was huge, Warner coming up with that double,” Bock said. “I think kind of let some of the air out of (Sheridan). And Ezell driving him home — those were two big runs.”
In the home seventh, Wylie lined out to Harris who made another nice play at first. Daggett reached second on an infield error that also was misplayed in the outfield. Ryan Taylor followed with a chopper to Warner’s left. Though the third sacker bobbled the ball as he tried to make the catch and check on Daggett at second, he recovered and fired to first for the out. A two-hopper off the bat of Jessie Feathers resulted in the final out.
If the weather allows, the Hornets will host Texarkana on Friday.