FAYETTEVILLE — Junior Blaine Knight shut down a powerful Fayetteville offense and senior eighth-place hitter Dalton Holt put an exclamation point on a 10-0 Bryant Hornets rout over the Purple Bulldogs with a 2-run bomb to left field in the 7A State Championship game in Fayetteville on Friday. It was the Hornets’ 23rd straight win and they just needed six innings to do it.
Knight was named the 7A tournament MVP after shutting out the Purple Dogs (31-4), giving up just four hits, walking four and striking out five. Knight finishes the season with an 11-0 record and a 0.53 earned-run average with 80 strikeouts in 65.2 innings.
“I was on cloud 9 the whole game,” Knight said. “It was awesome. Just to know I have my team behind me helping me out ... I had a couple rough spots, but everybody does every now and then. I did the best I could to work out of them.”
And work out of them he did. Fayetteville loaded the bases in the second inning, but Knight got Arkansas Razorback commit Kyle Pate to ground out to second to end the threat. That out started a string of seven straight before Knight walked Ethan King to start the bottom of the fifth. But Walker Powell lined out to second baseman Korey Thompson, who doubled up King at first.
“Knight did a tremendous job,” Bryant Coach Kirk Bock said. “All year, he’s had a couple of bad outings, but for the most part he’s been just like that all year. When he pitches, he’s the best around. When he throws, he’s just mediocre. He’s learned how to pitch this year. He’s done a great job.”
The Hornets (28-2) would strike with a run in the top of the first when senior leadoff Trevor Ezell worked a walk from Fayetteville starter and Ole Miss-commit Andy Pagnozzi, went to second on Drew Tipton’s sacrifice bunt and scored on senior Chase Tucker’s single up the middle for the 1-0 lead. Tucker went to second on the throw and to third on Trey Breeding’s single to left field. Jason Hastings tried to squeeze bunt, but first baseman Powell cut Tucker down at home and Blake Patterson struck out to end the frame.
“They stopped us in the first inning right there,” Bock said. “They made a great adjustment and made a great play, and I thought that would come back and haunt us, but our kids, once we smelled a little blood, we got on them.”
Brandan Warner walked to start the top of the second, Holt was hit by a pitch and Thompson laid down a sacrifice bunt, but the Bulldogs’ third baseman would throw the ball into right field allowing both Warner and Holt to score. Fayetteville’s defense would fail again as Thompson scored on an error by second baseman Alan Dunn for a 4-0 lead after two innings.
Holt and Thompson both singled with one out to start the third and chased Pagnozzi. Pate relieved and struck out Ezell before Tipton came through with a two-out RBI single to put the Hornets up 5-0.
“We swung it extremely well,” Bock said. “We played good defense and pitched extremely well all year. Offense comes and goes and [Friday] it came and it worked out pretty good for us.”
Pate set down five Hornets in a row before Holt singled with one out in the fifth, went to second on a fielder’s choice and third on a wild pitch. Bryant came through again with two outs when Ezell doubled to right field for the 6-0 lead, and Tipton switched places with Ezell with a double to right as well and a 7-0 Hornets’ lead.
In the top of the sixth, Patterson doubled in Hastings, who reached on a single, before Holt would get his third and final hit of the game. Holt took Pate deep for a 2-run shot with two outs which put the Hornets up 10-0. Holt finished his Hornets’ career going 3 for 3 with four runs and two RBI.
“He got on base four times, got hit, two singles and a jack,” Bock said. “He came through big. That’s a great game for him as a senior. There’s some schools looking at him and maybe someone will pull the trigger on him now.”
With the 10-run lead, the Hornets invoked the sportsmanship rule after six innings when Knight struck out Cody Davenport looking at a change up to start the inning, gave up a single to Drew Tyler, struck out Pagnozzi on a curve ball and induced a fly ball to Tucker in center field to end it, giving the Hornets three 7A titles in the past five years.
“I guess we’re doing it in even-numbered years right now,” Bock said of the championships. “2010, 12, and 14. If you would have told me that six years ago when I came in here, I would have taken it.
“Our kids prepared extremely hard, and they’ve prepared extremely hard all year. Our goal is to obviously win a state championship, but we want to win a national championship one day, and I think we’re going to do it.”
Tipton went 2 for 3 with two RBI, Hastings went 2 for 4, Thompson went 1 for 3 and Ezell went 1 for 3 with two runs and an RBI. Ezell finished his senior season leading the Hornets in just about every offensive category with a .524 average, 47 runs, five home runs, 39 RBI, 12 doubles and nine triples to go with 17 stolen bases.
“It’s been a great time and I’m glad to finish it out this way,” Ezell said. “I’m glad to lead my team to this, but really they did all the work out there. Everybody came through [Friday] and it’s just a good team win.”