BENTON – A huge first inning would propel the Bryant Hornets to victory Saturday over rival Benton Panthers at Everett Field at Panther Stadium in the Big Red Classic in Benton. The Hornets hung a 6-spot on the Panthers in the top of the first on their way to a 7-1 victory, keeping Bryant perfect on the season and sending Benton to its fourth straight loss.
“The guys did good,” Bryant Coach Travis Queck said. “They played real well.”
The Hornets improved to 6-0 on the season and got things going early when leadoff man Grant Johnson was hit by Benton senior starter Braden Campbell. Jordan Knox singled and Gideon Motes walked to load the bases for EJ Keith’s RBI single for the 1-0 lead. Jace Ruffner followed with a 2-run double to centerfield, and after Campbell got a strikeout for the first out, Hank Penfield hammered a 3-run shot for the 6-0 lead.
“We walked three or four guys and they got a couple of big hits,” said Benton Coach Mark Balisterri. “That’s kind of the sum of the story of the game. They did all their damage in the first inning.”
It was Motes on the mound keeping Benton at bay as he finished with the win giving up just an unearned run in the bottom of the sixth on five hits and four walks, striking out 10 in 6.1 innings. Ruffner relieved in the seventh and picked off a Panther before striking out the final man to end it.
“Gideon did a great job,” Queck said. “Gideon controlled the game, kind of pitched backwards a little bit throughout the course of the game, but as the lineups turned over a few times, made adjustments. Kudos to him.”
Bryant made it a 7-0 game in the top of the sixth when Hudson Thomason walked, stole second and scored on Knox’s one-out single, and Benton scored its lone run in the bottom of the sixth when Brock Mattox singled and courtesy runner Sam Shelton later scored on Brooks Lane’s RBI ground out.
“It’s always fun,” Queck said of playing the Panthers. “Mark’s always got those guys prepared. Super talented. It is a game that our kids look forward to.
“This is a budding rivalry. You’ve got the Salt Bowl, the (Saline County Shootout) in basketball and this should be recognized as one of the better rivalries, not only in the state, but the country.”
Ruffner (two RBIs) and Knox (RBI, two stolen bases) both finished 2 for 4 with a run, with Penfield’s shot going for three RBIs on his 1-for-3 day. Keith added a hit and RBI, with Johnson, Motes, Jeremiah Motes and Ron Rico Simmons all adding a hit each.
Other than that first frame, the Panthers pitched well with Cole McKinley throwing four innings of relief, giving up one run on five hits and two walks. Dalton Adair struck out two in a scoreless inning, his first action of the season, and freshman Evan Campbell struck out the side in his lone frame for three Ks.
“We had a sophomore (McKinley) who had never pitched in a varsity game and he threw the next four innings and shut them down pretty much,” Balisterri said. “We brought a freshman in the end and he did a great job.
“We just couldn’t score. We were swinging at too many bad pitches. (Most) of the strikeouts came from balls in the dirt. We didn’t have plate discipline and that’s what we talked about after the game.”
Benton senior Caiden Phillips went 2 for 3 while Justin Mitchem, Mattox and Jack Woolbright all added a hit.
Benton (2-4, 0-2) returns to 5A South Conference play today hosting Hot Springs in Benton. The Panthers also fell to Texarkana 4-0 this past Friday in Benton to fall to 0-2 in the South.
The Hornets played Jonesboro on the road to start 6A Central play Monday and head to Little Rock to play the Catholic Rockets on Thursday.
Queck credits his Hornets for the 6-0 start.
“They’re grinders,” he said. “They’re just scrappy. They embrace challenges. You have to let them play and they’re confident in what they’re doing. Now is the fun part, just go out there and doing it. We’ve faced some really good opponents so far and they’re answering the bell.”