Two Hornets nationally honored

BRYANT – After winning its second State Championship in the past three years with a 4-2 win over Rogers Heritage, the Bryant Hornets have received national recognition as two of its players were honored with awards. Second baseman Ozzie Hurt was honored with the American Baseball Coaches Association Rawlings Gold Glove and pitcher Nate Rutherford received the Louisville Slugger Honorable Mention All-American after his stellar season and being named MVP of the State Tournament.

Rutherford put it bluntly when he told the reason for his success this year.

“I played for good coaches and had a good defense,” Rutherford said. “That’s about it.

“You just have to throw strikes and hope your defense makes plays. They did all season.”

In 10 games this season, Rutherford sported an 0.96 earned-run average. He gave up eight runs (five earned) in 36 and two-third innings giving up 24 hits and 10 walks, and struck out 35.

“Coming in this year, he was a guy we really didn’t depend on because he wasn’t with us last year,” Bryant Coach Kirk Bock said. “Nate’s work ethic is unbelievable. Once we got him in the pen, he was really, really rough starting off and a lot of guys would not have come through that, but Nate took it home every day and practiced. That’s one of the guys that came back to practice better than he was the day before. Not only did he do it at practice, he went home and did it. He really came through for us.”

Rutherford will be a senior next year and was named MVP for the State Tournament after not allowing a run in 11 innings pitched, giving up four hits and a walk, and struck out nine while going 2-0.

“I just started finding my fastball,”Rutherford said. “It started moving later. The more I learned to control it, the more I was able to spot it up. I then found the right curve ball and the right change up, and finally decided I wasn’t going to try to strike everyone out. I was going to let my defense make plays. It all came together at the end.”

Hurt’s Gold Glove is proof that at least one Hornet was pretty solid defensively. Considered the best second baseman in the nation by the ABCA, the graduated Hurt made only two errors all year in 31 games.
“It means the world,” Hurt said of receiving the honor. “Just thinking about it, it’s the best in the nation, the best second baseman. It means a lot.

“He’s the best that we’ve had that I’ve coached,” Bock said. “We’ve had a lot of great infielders, but Ozzie’s innate ability to read hops, it seems like he never gets a bad hop. If he does get a bad hop, he makes up for it with his glove.”

Or for his bare hand for that matter. Hurt made a great play against Little Rock Catholic where the ball took a horrible hop going over his head, but he reached up with his non-glove hand, snared it and threw the runner out to end the game. That was not the only excellent play he made.

“He made some tremendous plays in Florida (tournament) that just really wowed you,” Bock said. “And Catholic, he made that great one. He made two or three great ones the other night in the [American Legion] State Tournament.”

Nicknamed after defensive wizard Ozzie Smith by his father, Hurt said his mother didn’t really appreciate the tag.

“Of course, my mom wasn’t happy,” Hurt said. “Whenever I came out, that’s how it went. Ozzie Smith. That was right in his prime.

“I’ve had to be good at fielding,” he continued. “That way I can stay in the lineup because hitting isn’t always there. But, [you can stay in the lineup] as long as you can catch the ball.”

Hurt hit .254 for the year with 16 runs scored and 14 RBIs, but it was the defense which kept in him in the lineup.

“I hope we have some come through that are a lot better than Ozzie, but as of right now, he’s the best that I’ve been around,” Bock said. “I’ve had great infielders, but never like Ozzie, who never gets a bad hop.”