By beating Little Rock Catholic 7-6 Monday in the 7A State Tournament semifinals in Fort Smith, Bryant advances to the championship game, which it is looking to win for the second straight year.
The Hornets will take on championship-round host Conway at 5:30 p.m Saturday.
Head coach Kirk Bock, whose team is 23-6 on the year (10-4 7A Central), said Saturday’s game against the Wampus Cats “is going to be a chore.”
“We’re kind of tired of playing people in our conference,” Bock said, laughing.
Both Catholic and Conway are 7A Central rivals. Bryant split its two games with Conway, and split a doubleheader against the Rockets at the end of the season that clinched the 7A Central title for the Hornets.
Bock said his players were ecstatic during the ride back Monday night.
“For the first 30 minutes,” he said, “then they slept the rest of the way.”
Bock said the player of the game had to be Caleb Milam, who pitched in relief for Mason Cross in the second inning after Cross had given up his sixth run. Milam went all the way until the last out, holding Catholic scoreless on three hits and three walks with six strikeouts.
“He was lights out,” Bock said of the winning pitcher.
Ahead 7-6 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Milam struck out Catholic’s first two batters, then walked the next two.
Bock said Milam “ran out of gas,” so he brought in Jordan Taylor, who struck out the next batter and earned the save, allowing Bryant to advance to the championship game.
“Catholic is a very, very classy ball club,” Bock said. “I love to compete with them.
“They’re certainly one of the best teams in the state. ... Coach [Dustin] Strube does a tremdouns job with those gusy.
“It got a little tense.”
Taylor, who Bock said “did a great job for us offensively,” batted 2-4, including a two-run home run in the first inning, with four RBIs and one run. Tyler Brown was 1-2 with two RBIs.
After giving up four runs in the second inning and down 6-2, Bryant scored in the bottom of the inning, Tyler Brown singled to right field to bring home Evan Jobe from third base and cut Catholic’s lead to three.
Bryant scored again in the third off a wild pitch and then tacked on three more in the sixth to take the lead. With bases loaded, Brown walked, which brought in one. Then Taylor singled to center field, which brought in two more.
Bock said being in back-to-back championship games gives his program “consistency.”
“Consistency of getting to where we need to go,” he said. “Now if we can just get consistency winning it.”
He said this week at practice he and the coaching staff will be “looking at the things we need to change to get better. However, Bock said any changes will only be “minor tweaks.”
“We don’t need to overall anything,” he said.