HOT SPRINGS — On a cold afternoon, the strike zone for the rotating crew of umpires was pretty consistently big in the pre-season benefit game between the defending Class 7A State champion Bryant Hornets and Hot Springs Lakeside Rams on Saturday.
As a result, between the two teams, there were 25 strikeouts in seven innings. It didn’t help the hitters any either that both teams pitched a different hurler every inning so none of them saw the same delivery twice.
The difference was, for Bryant’s batters, there were eight hits, seven walks and three Rams errors to go with their 13 strikeouts. Meanwhile, Lakeside managed just one hit — a two-out, two-strike single by Colton O’Keefe in the fourth inning — three walks and no errors by the Hornets to go with 12 strikeouts.
The result was a 9-0 win for Bryant, which is set to open the 2015 season officially on Tuesday, March 3, at home against Arkadelphia.
Drew Tipton and Evan Lee were on base four times each, Dylan Hurt had two hits, and Blake Patterson drove in three runs for the Hornets.
The combined shutout was tossed by Blaine Knight, Lee, Patterson, Alex Shurtleff, Hurt, Austin Kelly and Jason Hastings.
“I think pitching and defense, we did a good job,” commented Hornets head coach Kirk Bock. “Offensively, we struck out like 13 times but we did get eight hits. We had some positive things. Overall, I thought we did pretty good.”
Regarding the strikeouts, the coach added, “One of the things we’re trying to — it’s tough now. It’s tough. But outs are outs. It doesn’t matter if you strike out or fly out. It’s an out. We want to make sure that you put yourself in a good position to hit a baseball and not swing at stuff you shouldn’t. And I don’t think we did. We didn’t really swing at bad pitches.
“That was one of the things we talked about,” he continued. “I wasn’t upset about that. I thought we gave up on a couple of pitches that we shouldn’t have but, if the pitch is six, seven inches outside, you can’t hit it. We’re certainly not going to get into any bad habits the first game of the year, trying to do something we shouldn’t.”
Knight struck out three in the first with his first coming on a pitch that go away allowing Hayden Lindsey to reach base with one out. The senior right-hander, last year’s State MVP, fanned the next two, completing a 22-pitch frame.
In the second, Lee worked around a one-out walk and a balks, with a strikeout.
The Hornets, who had runners aboard in all but one inning, broke through with two runs in the third. Tipton led off with a walk and stole his way to third. With one out, Lee lofted a fly to left that the Lakeside fielder had to go back for. He got there but dropped it. Tipton had tagged to score and Lee was credited with a sacrifice fly but, when the ball dropped, he hustled to second.
Jordan Gentry entered as a courtesy runner and wound up scoring after a pair of wild pitches.
Patterson worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the inning with a pair of K’s. Shurtleff retired the first two in the fourth and had a 2-2 count on O’Keefe, who pulled a single into left for the lone Rams hit. Erick Aguirre flew to center.
It was ironic that Shurtleff, a junior, gave up the lone hit since in his last start of the 2014 American Legion season, he fired a no-hitter against Sheridan in the Junior State title game.
Bryant tacked on two runs in the top of the fifth with Tipton, the senior lead-off man, opening the frame with a walk. He advanced to second on a wild pitch then stole third. Lee walked with one out and Trey Breeding bunted courtesy runner Logan Allen to second as Tipton held at third.
That set the table for Patterson, who ripped a double to left-center, making it 4-0.
Hurt worked a scoreless fifth, fanning a pair and issuing a walk that Breeding, the Hornets’ catcher erased, throwing out the base-runner as he tried to steal.
Bryant put the rest of its runs on the board in the sixth. Hurt doubled to right-center and took third on a wild pitch as Seth Tucker drew a walk. Tucker stole second to put two in scoring position for Jake East, who laced a single to right to bring them both around.
East stole second and got to third on a balk. Tipton’s grounder to short drew a wild throw. East scored and Tipton sprinted into second.
Hastings drew a walk and, after Tipton was picked off second, Lee singled. He and Hastings worked a double steal then Breeding socked an RBI single up the middle and Patterson delivered a sacrifice fly to make it 9-0.
Kelly worked around a walk in his inning on the mound then Hastings retired the side in order to close out the game in the seventh. He fanned the last two.