BENTON — It may come as news to those who have seen Nashville’s baseball and boys basketball teams play the last four years, but Hornets star Bryce Bultman does have an athletic weakness.
“I golfed a little bit last summer,” he said, grinning. “I’m not very good at it.”
But Bultman was sure good at hitting, bunting and pitching a baseball Thursday. The 6-5 senior went 3 for 3 with the go-ahead RBI and also pitched the last two innings for the save in a 4-3 decision over Fairfield in the Class 2A Benton Sectional at Eovaldi Field.
In improving to 30-6, Nashville earned a spot in the sectional title game at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning. It will play Harrisburg, which eliminated Z-R-C 5-0 in the night’s second semifinal for its 18th consecutive win.
The score was even at 3-3 in the bottom of the fifth with runners at the corners and one out when Bultman surprised everyone in the ballpark. Coach Chad Malawy gave him the sign for a safety squeeze and Bultman dropped a lovely bunt down the third base line. Gavin Baldwin eluded the tag of catcher Alec Pruitt for the tie-breaking run.
“Coach told me if Neal (Paskiewicz) didn’t bring the run in, we were going to bunt on the first pitch,” Bultman said. “I was ready for it and I got it down.”
Bultman then protected the lead he made happen with some clutch relief work. The Mules (23-4) got two-out singles from Alec and Blake Pruitt in the sixth, but Bultman won a seven-pitch duel with Kane Hixenbaugh, throwing a 3-2 fastball by him to quell the threat.
Fairfield pushed the tying run to second in the seventh inning as Logan Trent led off with a single and moved to second on Bryn Hobbs’ sacrifice bunt. Bultman stopped it there, slipping a third strike by Mike Garrett to end an eight-pitch struggle and then fanning the last batter on three pitches for a well-earned save.
It was a fitting way for the game to end for both teams. The hard-hitting Mules weren’t retired in order all day, putting 16 runners aboard via nine hits, six walks and a hit batter. But they left a dozen runners on base.
Hornets righty Carson Parker got the win despite issuing six walks over five innings and 110 pitches. But Parker minimized damage artfully, even though he allowed four walks in a 34-pitch third inning.
“Carson’s come on lately, which is why we gave him the ball,” Malawy said. “He gutted it out on a nice, humid day. He and Bryce both made pitches when they had to.”
So did Harrisburg righthander Connor Phalin in the nightcap. Coach Jay Thompson opted to save ace Isaac Crabb and No. 2 starter Noah Boon for Saturday, and Phalin made the gamble pay off with six scoreless innings.
Using a sinker as his main pitch, Phalin limited Z-R-C (18-14) to three hits, walking two and fanning four.
“That’s a fantastic effort,” Thompson said after notching the 802nd win of his career. “You know, he hadn’t pitched in about two weeks and he was efficient. He threw strikes and we made plays behind him, which we usually do.”
The Bulldogs (29-8) scored the only runs they needed in the third when Will Holland bunted for a hit with men at first and second. A throwing error chased Ben Brombaugh and Will Gibbs home.
Holland’s double to right-center plated Gibbs in the fifth for a 3-0 advantage, and Crabb cashed Holland in when he slashed an RBI single to left. Gibbs capped the scoring in the sixth by rifling a run-scoring double to the fence in left-center.