In the zone

Ben­tonville’s Laney shut out crowd, shut down Fayet­teville in ’02 ti­tle game.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - HENRY AP­PLE

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.”

AP/SPENCER TIREY

Ben­tonville's Bran­don Laney throws against Pu­laski Mills in their Class AAAAA tour­na­ment matchup May 4, 2002, in Lit­tle Rock.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/HENRY AP­PLE

Bran­don Laney, the win­ning pitcher for Ben­tonville in the 2002 Class 5A state base­ball cham­pi­onship game against Fayet­teville.

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