Bryant-Sheridan tune-up goes Lady Jackets’ way

File photo by Kevin Nagle

SHERIDAN — Something had to give.

Coming into their late addition of a game to stay sharp for their respective State Tournament openers on Friday, the 27-3 Bryant Lady Hornets, champions of the 7A-Central Conference, had won 15 games in a row including a sweep of their league, gaining a No. 1 seed and a first-round bye at the 7A State tourney. Meanwhile, the 27-4 Sheridan Lady Jackets had won 20 games in a row including a clean sweep of their mixed 5A/6A conference and the 6A-West Conference tournament, gaining a No. 1 seed and a first-round bye at the 6A State tourney.

Sheridan, the defending Class 6A champion, wound up making it 21 in a row with a 7-2 victory on their home field behind the pitching last year’s State MVP Reagan Martin and her younger sister Kassi. The high-powered bats of the Lady Hornets were limited to five hits and suffered only their second loss to an Arkansas team this year. (The other was a 2-1 loss to Benton Harmony Grove back on March 10. The other Bryant losses were during spring break against a pair of teams from Alabama in Gulf Shores.)

Sheridan, in turn, avenged a wild 9-8 loss at Bryant on March 9. The Lady Jackets’ last setback was to Greenwood on April 1, a setback they avenged in the championship of the 6A-West tournament on Saturday. (Their other losses were to the other 7A top seed, Bentonville, 2-0, and to Class 5A power Nashville, 9-2, on March 10.)

The game started okay for the Lady Hornets when Regan Ryan reached on an error by Sheridan shortstop Maggie Hicks. But, with one out, Hicks fielded Sarah Evans’ hard grounder and started an inning-ending doubleplay.

In the bottom of the inning, Hicks powered a solo home run.

Bryant pitcher Gianni Hulett retired the next two batters with ease then appeared to be out of the inning by inducing a fly to left by Charlie Names. But the ball was misplayed. Left-fielder Maddie Stephens recovered in time to make a play on Names at second. Initially called out to end the inning, a meeting of the umpires resulted in a change to safe.

That proved providential for Sheridan when the next batter, Tobi Finley singled to make it 2-0. Hulett fanned Nicole Tompkins to end the inning, her second strikeout of the frame.

To lead off the second, Meagan Chism crushed the first pitch but her line drive was caught by Hicks, who made a leaping play, for the out. The Lady Hornets were retired in order.

In the Sheridan second, Carley Strawn singled to left but, trying to sacrifice, Sarah Moore popped to Brooklyn Trammell, who was charging from first. Evans, over to cover first base, got in behind Strawn who was doubled off as Trammell whirled and threw in time.

Colby Norman singled but Hulett got Hicks on a soft pop that the Bryant pitcher caught herself.

The Lady Hornets got on the board in the top of the third but didn’t get as much as they might have. Madison Lyles and Stephens cracked back-to-back doubles with one down. Ryan hit a line drive but was robbed of a hit by second baseman Kylee Williamson. Stephens tried to surprise the Lady Jackets by stealing third but she was caught, ending the inning.

Raven Loveless, on in relief of Hulett as part of the regular every-two-innings rotation of the two, was greeted by Williamson’s single. A potential doubleplay ball off the bat of Maeson Grace, however, was misplayed and resulted in runners at first and second and no one out for Names. She singled to left to load the bases. Finley hit a grounder to deep short that Lyles got to. Her only play, however, was a toss to Macey Jaramillo at third for a force as a run score.

Loveless then got Tompkins to groundout to Trammell at first for the second out. With runners at second and third, however, Strawn lined a double to center to make it 5-1.

Bryant got a run back in the top of the fourth. With one out, Evans got to second on an throwing error by third baseman Colby Norman. Chism cracked a single to right to drive her home.

Jaramillo sacrificed Chism to second but she was stranded.

Back-to-back doubles by Hicks and Williamson produced a run for Sheridan in the bottom of the inning, making it 6-2.

With Kassi Martin in to pitch for the Lady Jackets, Bryant was set down in order in the top of the fifth. Hulett, in turn, retired Sheridan 1-2-3 in the home half.

The Lady Hornets made a bid at a rally in the sixth when Ryan singled to center. With two down, Chism beat out an infield single to put two aboard. But Martin and the Lady Jackets wriggled out of the jam to keep it a four-run game.

They then tacked on one more in the bottom of the inning when Moore walked, took second on Norman’s sacrifice and scored when Hicks’ grounder was misplayed.

In the seventh, Loveless led off with an infield hit but the next three batters were retired to end the game.

Though the teams were of State championship caliber, the intensity of the game was not State tourney level.

The Lady Hornets will open State on Friday at noon, if forecasted rain doesn’t postpone Thursday games. They’ll take on the winning of Thursday’s contest between Rogers Heritage and Fort Smith Northside.

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