By Rob Patrick
SHERWOOD — As it turned out, when the Bryant Lady Hornets played the Russellville[more] Lady Cyclones in the semifinals of River City Rumble Invitational Tournament in Van Buren on Saturday, it was the Russellville junior varsity they beat 12-0.
Apparently, the Lady Cyclones have a new freshman pitcher that they didn’t want the Lady Hornets to face in advance of today’s 7A/6A-Central Conference game between the two teams at the Lady Hornets’ Yard.
So, for Bryant head coach Debbie Clark, it was good she had scheduled to play at Sylvan Hills on Monday night even though her team had had just one day of rest after playing six games in two days, seven over three days Thursday through Saturday.
“I thought about that on Sunday,” she allowed when asked if she worried about a letdown after her team won the Rumble. “I did not realize the format of the tournament and that it was going to be so hot but kids are resilient, much more than I am.
“The games were timed,” she noted, “and, for example, on Friday we actually played only seven innings even though we played two games and we looked at it that way. And the game against Russellville only went 30 minutes because he played his JV players. We were able to kind of pick and choose and make some decisions there.”
Bryant wound up using a five-run third-inning uprising to defeat the Lady Bears and improve to 19-0 on the season.
“We felt like the girls needed to see this pitcher,” Clark added, referring to Sylvan Hills’ Michelle Sorenson, “because we really saw much slower pitching at the tournament and we know Russellville has an ace this year who’s going to throw faster. But we scouted them. I just gave the girls the scouting report and that’s their homework tonight so tomorrow before the game we can talk about it.”
Still, Clark’s heart must’ve jumped into her throat when her ace pitcher Peyton Jenkins, dealing with a rather deep pit in front of the pitching rubber, stumbled and fell during warm-ups before one of the innings. Everyone rushed to check on the two-time Class 7A State MVP. And, fortunately, she shook it off and continued.
“We had to battle through a lot of mental things tonight,” Clark acknowledged. “We drove over here, the field was not in the shape we would’ve liked it. Peyton pitched through it but I warmed up two pitchers just in case.
“We cannot take rakes out there,” she noted. “She had to change her pitches and she told J.T. (catcher Jessie Taylor), ‘I’m just going to throw curveballs,’ because there’s so many things (pitchers) do with their lower body. That’s why you’ve got to have a good field and good footing. She had to shorten her stride and she had to make adjustments.”
And there was more. In the middle of the game, the winds kicked up and it seemed certain that a storm was blowing in but it never rained and they continued to play.
“There were a lot of distractions today but it was not a bad day to play,” Clark said. “It was cooler and that was nice. We had a different strike zone, we had the field, we had the weather. So we had a lot of factors that we dealt with and we still did fine.
“We did really well for about three innings hitting then we just shut down,” she mentioned. “I said, ‘Guys, we don’t have that divit up there at home plate. We’re not dealing with that. We need to focus.’
“But I’ll take a win anytime. Last year, we beat them 1-0.”
Offensively, the Lady Hornets were led by red-hot lead-off hitter Jenna Bruick, who had three hits for the fourth consecutive game. Kayla Sory also finished with three hits and two runs batted in.
Both teams scored a run in the opening frame. For Bryant, Bruick walked and Jenkins singled. Taylor bounced into a force at third but a base hit by Sory loaded the bases for Cassidy Wilson, who came through with a sacrifice fly to bring home Abby Staton, who was running for Jenkins.
It was apparent that Jenkins was adapting to the pitching surface as she walked two batters in the first. Alex Staton doubled to drive in the Lady Bears’ run but, with two on and one out, Jenkins found a groove and ended the inning with the first two of her 13 strikeouts in the game.
It stayed 1-1 until Bryant’s third-inning uprising, which Bruick commenced with a lined single to left. Jenkins bounced one up the middle and, an out later, Sory shot a single to left to snap the tie. Wilson dumped a hit into shallow right, loading the bases for Kaley Coppock, who plugged the gap in right-center knocking in Abby Staton and Sory.
Carly Yazza hit a shot to third and the Lady Bears tried to get a force on Coppock at second. But her throw ricocheted off Coppock’s helmet allowing Wilson to scamper home to make it 5-1.
A wild pitch moved Coppock to third and Yazza to second so when Katy Stillman hit a bouncer to the right side, Bryant had its sixth run.
Jenkins worked around a walk and a bunt single in the bottom of the inning and the Lady Hornets added one more in the top of the fourth. Bruick singled up the middle and Jenkins walked. After a wild pitch moved them up to second and third, Bruick was caught trying to score on Taylor’s two-hopper to third. Staton moved over to third on the play and came in when Sory cracked a grounder up the middle that the Sylvan Hills’ second baseman got a glove on but was unable to make a play on.
After that, the only Bryant hit was Bruick’s lead-off single in the sixth.
Meanwhile, Sylvan Hills trimmed a run off the lead with three straight two-out singles in the fifth. With runners at second and third, the next Sylvan Hills batter fouled off four 0-2 pitches before Jenkins got one by her to end the threat.
A similar scenario unfolded in each of the next two innings. In the sixth, a two-out error and a double by had runners at second and third. Again, Jenkins kept pumping in strikes and the batter kept fouling them off. After four 1-2 deliveries, she struck out.
In the seventh, a pair of singles had runners at first and second with one out and the batter fouled off five 2-2 deliveries before striking out. The final out came after three foul balls with the count at 2-2.