LITTLE ROCK — Early in their 6A-Central Conference game against the Little Rock Central Tigers at Buddy Coleman Field, the Bryant Hornets were stinging the ball, but everything seemed to be either right at a defender or just foul.
So, head coach Travis Queck had his team scratching out runs with small ball and, in the fifth inning, it turned into a three-run uprising that was more than enough for right-hander Turner Seelinger, who handcuffed the Tigers on six hits without a walk while striking out 11.
The Hornets extracted a 7-2 victory to improve to 14-1 on the season and 4-0 in conference play going into Friday’s league game with the struggling Little Rock Southwest Gryphons at Bryant High School Field.
The Hornets had seven hits to take advantage of three Tiger errors and five walks. Austin Ledbetter and Conner Martin each had two knocks.
Meanwhile, Seelinger was dominant. Over the first 3 1/3 innings, he allowed one bloop single while striking out eight including six in a row along the way. Central put the ball in play three times, twice on taps to first in the opening inning then on the one-out single by Sam Collier-Tenison in the second.
“He’s been rock solid for us,” stated Queck. “Today was kind of the culmination of things we’ve worked on from the start of the season until now with more efficiency and the speed of the game. We kept a time on every inning and the longest inning we were out there was five minutes and 25 seconds.
“We emphasized strikes, making them put it in play and just executing the game,” he continued. “And he did a heck of a job doing that. His goal before the game was to make sure he threw the entire game and he sure did that.
“We had him just above 80,” the coach noted. “That’s real efficient. That’s what he’s got to be and that’s what we need all our guys to be.
“It goes back to Coach (Kirk) Bock and those arms that we had,” Queck recalled. “We always calculated three-minute innings. It was a fight to get to the mound for our guys. What we find is, when we play three-minute innings, (the opponent is) sitting out there melting and we’re in the dugout rattling cages.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Turner,” he asserted.
The Hornets scratched out a run in the top of the first when Central lefty Luke McKnight issued consecutive walks to Davis and Ledbetter. Davis swiped third then Martin got a squeeze bunt down to get him home.
The game went to the fourth with the Hornets protecting a 1-0 lead. In the top of that inning, Ledbetter swatted a lined single to left for Bryant’s first hit. He stole second and, on a delayed steal, took third. J.T. Parker drew a one-out walk and swiped second to set the table for Seelinger, who came through with a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.
Central managed a run in the bottom of the fourth. With one out, Matthew Holmes tapped a swinging bunt up the first-base line and beat it out for the Tigers’ second hit. But Seelinger picked him off first.
A pitch later, however, Nikko Masters lined a solid single to left center. Collier-Tenison poked a hump-backed liner to right that fell in for a double, driving Masters home. Collier-Tenison tried to stretch it to a triple but the Hornets worked the relay well and he was out by a mile as Jackson applied the tag at third to end the inning.
McKnight, a lefty, worked around a two-out walk to Ryan Riggs in the top of the fifth then Seelinger eased through the home half with a pair of bleeders in front of the plate and a strikeout.
The Hornets’ second hit started the sixth. It was another lined single by Ledbetter. Looking to bunt him over, Martin got a perfect bunt down and beat it out for a single. Hoping to sacrifice the runners to second and third, Parker put his bunt right down the third-base line. He too beat it out for a single to load the bases.
Seelinger hit a grounder to short and Central got a force as Ledbetter scored. And when an ill-advised relay to first was attempted, it went wild allowing Martin to score. Seelinger took second on the bad throw and when a late throw to the plate went awry, he wound up at third. Logan White came on as a courtesy runner for Seelinger and scored when McKnight uncorked a wild pitch, making it 5-1.
“What’s brutal about spring break and getting rain the early part of the week and moving games around, it’s the layoff,” Queck observed. “We lost last Saturday’s game (to storms) and we lost Tuesday’s game and pushed it to today. I just like being in a routine.
“Typically, we go to Florida (for spring break) and play eight games, boom, boom, boom. And that’s when we’re hitting our stride. So, I knew going in — I didn’t want to believe it, but I knew there could be a little lull. It was just, ‘How are our guys going to respond? How are we going to combat that?’
“Like I told them (after the game), the second time through (the lineup) is when we have to make those adjustments,” he related. “We got to the third time and we made those adjustments. We have got to understand, we’ve got to do a better job to get that earlier.
“And they get it. And we’re getting better every day. That’s what we’re trying to do and I’m proud of them for that.”
Central pinch-hitter Adrian Phifer led off the bottom of the sixth with a liner that Parker nearly speared with a dive to his left. He recovered the ball and threw to first but Phifer beat it out. Lead-off man Josh Rose slapped a single to right but then Seelinger induced three consecutive groundouts. A run came around to score, but the Hornets eased out the jam with Rowe left standing at third.
Collier-Tenison relieved McKnight, who had reached 113 pitches with two out in the sixth. After getting the final out of that inning, the Central right-hander was greeted by Jordan Knox’ shot to third. He beat out a single and when the throw from third was errant, he advanced to second.
Riggs walked and Knox stole third. That set the table for a two-run double by Davis.
Ledbetter made a bid for his third hit, but Tigers’ centerfielder Jules Weinheimer charged in and caught liner. Davis, trying to tag and go to third was thrown out. Moments later, Martin plugged the gap in left-center for a triple, but he was stranded when Parker’s drive deep down the left-field line was hauled in by Rowe.
Seelinger closed it out with his 10th and 11th strikeouts before Weinheimer flew to Knox in right to end the game.