In the zone
Bentonville’s Laney shut out crowd, shut down Fayetteville in ’02 title game.
Brandon Laney had no idea he was about to pitch before the largest crowd to witness a high school baseball game in Arkansas.
An estimated 5,500 people were in attendance at Baum Stadium that Saturday night when Bentonville played Fayetteville in the 2002 Class 5A state championship game. As far as Laney was concerned, he could only see three people — himself, his catcher and whatever Fayetteville player was in the batter’s box at the moment.
“Athletes always say they get into that zone and honestly, that’s what I was in,” Laney said. “I went back and listened to the game on audio, and you could hear chants from the crowd. I don’t remember hearing those chants during the game. I don’t remember hearing any cheers or boos or anything.
“I was in the zone, and I was in this tunnel. There was no noise. It was just me and my thoughts and what I could do to get this batter out. It was a weird feeling.”
Laney went on to pitch five-plus innings in that game and was credited with the win as Bentonville held off Fayetteville for a 4-3 victory. The right-hander struck out the side in the first inning and eventually finished the game with eight strikeouts, seven of those coming in the first three innings.
It was a completely different situation than his previous encounter with the Purple’Dogs. Fayetteville jumped out to a 6-0 lead through four innings against Laney, who admitted he was pitching despite being sick and had taken medication before the game, and the Purple’Dogs eventually took a 9-3 victory in the first game of a doubleheader.
“The guy didn’t back down,” said then-Bentonville coach Keith Kilgore, now the Rogers athletic director. “He made the adjustments he needed to make and prepared himself to do what he did all year long, then he battled.
“Baum was electric that night, and tunnel vision was needed in order to not get caught up in all the hype. Brandon really set the tone when he struck out the side in the first, and that gave us the opportunity to manufacture some runs.
Laney finished the season with a 6-2 record and a 2.31 ERA while leading Bentonville with five complete games and 52 strikeouts. After trying out for the Chicago White Sox in Fayetteville, he signed with Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, but he only pitched 16 innings because of elbow complications.
He tried out the following summer for the St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals and New York Mets, then returned to Miami, Okla., for his second year of college. Injuries eventually put an end to his baseball career, so he went on to Arkansas, where he served as a student strength and conditioning coach for the women’s athletic teams, baseball and some football.
After a year in Chicago as a physical trainer at Export Fitness, Laney moved back to Northwest Arkansas. He currently works at Wal-Mart in store compliance, but he plans to begin nursing school next month.
“It’s what I’ve always
wanted to do — be in the medical field,” Laney said. “Ever since I became injured and became a strength and conditioning coach with the Razorbacks, I’ve had a passion and a fascination with the human body and making sure it stays healthy. It’s what I wanted to do for several years, and now I’m pulling that string and actually doing it.”
Bentonville's Brandon Laney throws against Pulaski Mills in their Class AAAAA tournament matchup May 4, 2002, in Little Rock.
Brandon Laney, the winning pitcher for Bentonville in the 2002 Class 5A state baseball championship game against Fayetteville.