Back-to-back shots lift North Little Rock past Bryant in first-place showdown

Left fielder Carly Yazza dives for a foul fly during Thursday's game. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)By Rob Patrick

Photos by Kevin Nagle 

There’s no doubt, Peyton Jenkins would love to have[more] those two pitches back.

Kayla Sory holds up at second after blasting a drive off the fence in the sixth inning. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

And the fact is, they’re about the only pitches in the entire game she’d ask for because up to that point, she’d pitched a two-hit shutout against the North Little Rock Lady Charging Wildcats.

But, with two out in the top of the sixth, Hannah Escovedo cracked a solo homer to right-center and, three pitches later, a strike for ending the inning, Callie Simmons shot one over the fence in left-center.

In a hotly contested battle between the top two teams in the 7A/6A-Central Conference (and the state?), all three runs came on solo homers. North Little Rock held off a Bryant threat in the bottom of the seventh to claim a 2-1 win.

The Lady Charging Wildcats improved to 5-0 in conference play while the defending State champion Lady Hornets dropped to 6-1 in the league, 16-4 overall. The two teams play again to wrap up the conference season at Burns Park on May 9.

“It was a tough, hard loss,” acknowledged Lady Hornets head coach Debbie Clark. “North Little Rock is a good team and they are well coached. We just couldn’t hit enough home runs.”

Bryant catch Jessie Taylor backpedals to grab a foul pop. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

Bryant’s lone run was a solo shot by Cassidy Wilson with one out in the bottom of the second.

“As a coach, I don’t like depending on home runs as a way to win games,” Clark continued. “We face really good pitching and hitting a home run is not easy. If it was, everybody would be able to hit one. I want my players to have quality at bats and to move their teammates into scoring position and then score those teammates.”

Jenkins, who struck out 10, shackled the Lady Cats most of the game. She retired the first six batters then issued a walk. But that base-runner was erased on a pickoff and the next two were retired.

After the single in the top of the fourth, Jenkins and the Lady Hornets’ flawless defense set down the next three.After a single to start the fifth, five in a row were retired before the back-to-back jacks. She then closed by getting the last four, three on strikes.

“We beat them everywhere but the scoreboard,” Clark stated. “We had six hits to their four. We struck out five times and they struck out 10 times.”

Simmons, the North Little Rock pitcher, worked around a lead-off single by Bryant’s Jenna Bruick in the first. In the second not only did Wilson snap the scoreless tie with her shot but the Lady Hornets loaded the bases with one out. Carly Yazza singled up the middle then Katy Stillman reached on an error. Bruick walked to fill the sacks but Simmons escaped with a strikeout.

Cassidy Wilson is greeted by her teammates at homeplate after her second-inning homer. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

“I believe that inning hurt us the most offensively,” Clark said. “We had bases loaded with two outs after Cassidy’s home run and we didn’t score again. I truly believe if we had scored more than her home run, the momentum would have stayed with us.”

Jenkins’ single with one out in the third came to naught then Simmons got on a roll, retiring nine straight before Kayla Sory ripped a double off the fence with one out in the bottom of the sixth. It was just a couple of feet from a tying homer. But Simmons struck out the next two batters to preserve the 2-1 lead.

She would retire the side in order in the seventh to finish.

“We had one out and couldn’t score Kayla,” Clark emphasized. “This continued to give North Little Rock and their pitcher confidence.

“We have to work on our situational, getting-the-job done mentality and put ‘home run derby’ mentality into perspective,” she added.

“I would like to commend our freshman right fielder Katy Stillman,” the coach mentioned. “She hit the ball hard and is developing into a reliable ‘Bryant Beast.’ I also want to acknowledge the players who were in the dugout and not in the line-up. They were very vocal and encouraging to their teammates. They were ‘in’ the game and this makes me proud. They felt the loss just as hard as the starters. This is the kind of team unity a coach dreams about. They all will receive a ‘Beast Award’ at practice Friday.”

The Lady Hornets have a few days off now. They’ll return to action on Thursday, April 21, against Little Rock Central as they begin the second half of the conference slate.Cassidy Wilson knocks down a grounder as teammate Jenna Bruick moves to cover second. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

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