By: Justin Felisko June 15, 2014@ 02:00:00 PM
BISMARCK, N.D. – They may be on opposite ends of the world standings spectrum, and their experience levels may vary some, but Kasey Hayes and Stetson Lawrence shared one defiant trait this weekend at the Bismarck Event Center.
Both bull riders showed a fearlessness and determination when it came time for the short round on both nights of the DCB PBR Bull Riding Challenge when Chad Berger rolled out the rankest of his bull pen. By the time it was all said and done, both riders were beaming with confidence after putting forth two of the most impressive rides of their respective careers for event victories.
Hayes continued his 2014 renaissance by conquering another one of the rankest bulls in the PBR when he sat down upon Fire & Smoke on Friday night, letting the breakout bull on the Built Ford Tough Series carry him to 94 points for the event win.
The Liberal, Kansas, bull rider was able to maintain his seat on the Berger talent as Fire & Smoke broke into a spin with plenty of hip action, while the riders on the chutes began to roar as each second ticked by.
“Man, he was just right there in the gate to the left and he is pretty stout,” Hayes said. “He wants to throw a guy back, and I fought to get to the front and fought to stay on. You can’t give up in this sport on these rank bulls. If you do, you’re not going to ride. If you put it all out there, you may ride a rank one.”
Or in Hayes case, you may ride a few.
Friday night was the third time this year that the 28-year-old took down one of the rankest bulls in the PBR. He had previously covered Mississippi Hippy for 88.5 points in Des Moines, Iowa, and Shepherd Hills Tested (for 91.5 points) in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in back-to-back weeks. Fire & Smoke had only been ridden once this year – an 87.25-point effort by Fabiano Vieira at Iron Cowboy – before Hayes made it look easy with a career-high ride.
Hayes was part of a group of riders that took time out of their day on Saturday to stop by Dakota Community Bank & Trust in Bismarck to participate in an autograph session for fans. His ride was still something that left his fellow riders and Berger talking heading into the second night of Berger’s 14th-annual event.
“That bull was bucking hard and Kasey made every move for move with that bull,” Berger said. “I am proud of Kasey. He has been a good friend of mine and he has really supported my events real well, so I cheer for those kind of guys.”
Hayes is 14th in the world standings and rode 36.73 percent of his bulls during the first half of the BFTS – a half-point higher than his career riding percentage of 33.33. If his first half success carries over when the second half resumes on Aug. 15 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Hayes looks primed to surpass his career-best 19th place finish in the 2008 world standings.
In an interview with Keith Ryan Cartwright last month, Hayes said his turnaround began away from the arena with his personal life. Inside the arena, Hayes is having fun again. This weekend was another example of that, as he was mobbed by his fellow riders leaving the dirt.
Whooping and hollering, Hayes roared, “That ride was badass.”
“He is on fire,” Berger added. “Nobody is riding Shepherd Hills Tested. Nobody is riding Mississippi Hippy, and I believe since I have owned that bull, that is the only time he has been ridden.”
Coincidentally, one of the fellow riders helping Hayes get situated in the chutes Friday was Lawrence, who began the weekend ranked 40th in the world standings, coming off event wins in three of the past four weeks.
On Saturday night, Lawrence knocked Cody Nance from the top of the leaderboard by riding Cowtown Slinger for 92 points, also a career-high, in the championship round for the event victory. Nance had earlier put up 91 points on Twitter This in the championship round. Lawrence finished with 179 points to Nance’s 178.
It was the second consecutive weekend Lawrence posted a 90-plus-point ride after earning 91 points on Chocolate Thunder in Belt, Montana.
“I have seen that bull all season and I’ve always wanted to get on him,” Lawrence said. “He is into my hand and that is what I like. You can get a lot of points on him; he is flashy. When I came here, if I had the opportunity to pick him, I was going to pick that bull.”
The home-state kid from Williston, which is about three-and-a-half hours west of Bismarck, was able to maintain his positioning despite Cowtown Slinger getting him partially unseated multiple times.
“Right away, I felt ok on him, like I could keep moving forward, then he got me back a little bit, so I went to the front and was out over him a little bit,” Lawrence said. “I kept gritting it out and it worked out I guess.”
Berger said, “That isn’t just luck. When someone is that consistent riding the top-end bulls, it is because they are good, and I think you will see more of Stetson to come and he will be on the Built Ford Tough level.”
Ben Jones (176), Dakota Louis (175) and Mike Lee (172) rounded out the Top 5 Saturday. Hayes attempted to conquer another tough bovine in the championship round, but was bucked off by Apollo Stripes in 7.70 seconds.
The poise of Lawrence hasn’t been stronger. He is relaxed, confident and presently thriving during one of his most successful bull riding highs. He rode Felix for 87 points in the long round to go a perfect 2-for-2 a night after being bucked off by Loco Lizard in the championship round.
Event wins in Pala, California, Tonasket, Washington and Belt, Montana, have helped put the 25-year-old in a better position to make it back to the BFTS, where he competed in three events in the first half.
“I am oozing with confidence, but like last night, I got bucked off in the short round and it will buck me down back to reality,” he said. “I just try and stay level-headed and ride my bull for what it is.”
Berger, who helped raise $20,000 for Bike 2 Believe this weekend, has known Lawrence for a while and even rodeoed with his father, Troy.
“When he first came to a few Built Fords last year, I told Cody Lambert to watch him,” Berger said. “He just had a little rough go of it, but I always said that kid can – if he can keep his hand in his rope – ride anything they put under him. He is that good of a rider.”
The three-time Stock Contractor of the Year told Lawrence during the championship round draft he believed Cowtown Slinger would be a good fit.
Sure enough, he was just that.
“These short round bulls all could be possibly BFTS short-round bulls,” Lawrence said. “To ride one of them means a lot to me because it shows to myself that I can ride and I am somewhat proving myself that I am capable of riding those kind of bulls.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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