SPORTS>> Sylvan Hills drops Bryant
By Ray Benton
Leader sports editor
Sylvan Hills got one of the most improbable two-out rallies one could imagine Tuesday afternoon, advancing the Bears to their third-straight state championship game. But this one was even sweeter than the two previous ones, according to Sylvan Hills head coach Denny Tipton.
The Bears were down 5-3 with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the seventh inning against Bryant, the top-ranked team in the state, and playing on the Hornets’ home field. Bryant is considered one of the best high-school baseball teams in state history.
A walk, a single, a two-RBI double and a game-winning RBI single followed in succession to lift the Bears over the stunned Hornets.
“This is probably the biggest win since I’ve been here,” Tipton said. “We won a state championship a couple years ago and that was great. But this team we beat today is such a high-caliber, high-quality ball club. It’s just a great win. These kids never gave up and never stopped believing in themselves. All the credit goes to them.”
The Bears got excellent lessons earlier in the game on how to put together two-out rallies. The Hornets scored all five of their runs with two outs, the final three coming in the fifth inning after a Sylvan Hills error turned what should have been a jam-ending double play into new life for Bryant.
Starting pitcher Ashur Tolliver let the first two batters on and reliever Chase Elder walked the third.
Elder got the fourth Hornet to pop up to first base. The fifth hit a pop up into shallow right field where Nathan Van Schoyck made a diving stab, but caught it on the short hop. The Bryant runners froze thinking it had been caught.
Van Schoyck fired home to get the force out, but Dustin Baker’s relay throw to third was mishandled and rolled into left field. No one scored, but a single and a double followed to lift Bryant to a 5-2 lead.
Elder got an RBI double down the right-field line in the sixth inning to cut the margin to 5-3.
Sylvan Hills’ first two batters grounded out and flew out to left field. That brought Elder to the plate, who drew a huge walk.
“I told ’em to just get somebody on,” Tipton said. “If we get a runner on, it brings Eller up. Then we got Presson and Gwatney, who have had really hot bats lately.”
After Elder’s walk, Eller singled down the left-field line to put runners on first and second. Matt Presson then scorched a shot that burned Bryant centerfielder Chris Wood and rolled all the way to the fence. Presson stopped at second as both runners scored to tie the game.
Austin Gwatney then stepped in and hit the game-winner into the gap in right-center to send the Bears to the state title game for the third straight year.
“Everybody said we lost everyone from last year. We were moving up in classification. No one really gave this group a chance. We wanted to prove ’em wrong. All year long we’ve wanted to prove ’em wrong,” Tipton said.
The Bears will play Benton or Jonesboro, who played in the other semifinal game late last night after Leader deadlines.