Clark calls for line drives, gets line drives (including one too many) as Bryant rolls
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CONWAY — There may not be a softball player in the state, high school or college, that hits the ball any harder than[more] Bryant’s Jessie Taylor. She’s only hitting .465 with nine home runs and a slugging percentage of a whopping .986.
Bryant head coach Debbie Clark already knew that. She’d seen it. She’d heard it. And that was enough.
But, on Wednesday, late in her team’s 15-1 romp over the Conway Lady Cats, she unfortunately felt it too.
Taylor got out in front of a pitch from Conway’s Paige Liles and pulled a hard one-hopper outside the third-base line that got onto Clark, coaching third base, so fast she had no time to move. The ball smacked the coach just above and inside her left knee.
She was in some major pain but she continued for a while, until a bag of ice and wrap were brought to her.
By that time, Taylor had smacked a two-run single to left and courtesy runner Stephanie Cyz as usual had replaced her on the base paths. It was a part of Bryant’s second six-run inning of the game, a finishing touch to the Lady Hornets’ 21st win in 25 games this season.
Oh, and when the ice was being applied to Clark’s leg, Taylor, fully decked out in her catching gear, took Clark’s spot in the third-base coaching box — quite a sight — before the inning came to a conclusion.
Headed down the home stretch of the regular season with the Class 7A State Tournament looming, the defending State champion Lady Hornets appear to be locked in.
Since their 2-1 loss at home to rival North Little Rock at home on April 14, the Lady Hornets have outscored three opponents 46-1 in four games including Wednesday’s blowout in five innings. In fact, when the Lady Cats dented the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning, it ended a streak of 23 consecutive scoreless innings put together by Bryant pitchers and defense.
“This team I coach, they hate to lose,” stated Clark, after hobbling out of the dugout upon the conclusion of the contest. “They still talk about losses from the beginning of the season. And they sure don’t like to get beat at their own place. Sometimes it’s just that we might have four or five really focused and we might have four or five not completely focused. We need a complete game from everybody.
“We have raised our intensity level at practice,” she noted. “We have talent. We have confidence but sometimes it’s hard for people to be self-motivated and that’s what I’m trying to teach them. If we can get those girls to walk out at the State tournament self-motivated, then I’ve done my job.”
Altogether this season, Bryant has produced 10 shutouts and six more games in which only one run was allowed.
Wednesday, Peyton Jenkins limited Conway to just two hits. She struck out 10 without a walk, though she hit a batter. She set down the first nine batters she faced while she and her teammates piled up a 9-0 lead.
Her stellar pitching in recent games has come despite illness, Clark mentioned.
“We were struggling,” she said. “We didn’t realize that people were sick. Peyton’s been struggling with it. She said tonight, ‘I feel like myself again.’ I’m so proud of her. We pretty much found out after the North Little Rock game. We started doing some tactical things to help her to preserve her strength. Saturday, when we went to play the doubleheader at Van Buren, it was hot and humid. I was extremely proud. We scored 21 runs in two games and they didn’t score any. Then they came out here and did what they were supposed to today.”
Bryant took advantage of nine walks with 10 hits including three by Taylor, who was robbed of a fourth on a nice running catch down the left-field line by Conway’s Maddie Shaw. Kayla Sory and Carly Yazza each had two hits.
The Lady Hornets, who have hit 19 home runs this season, had been a little homer-happy of late, Clark indicated, and for a while it had been having a detrimental effect at times.
“The temptation is to think, well, we put a lot over that fence,” she said. “What I’m trying to get them to think is, like I was telling J.T. before her last at-bat. I said, ‘I need you to get me a base hit, a hard base hit,’ and (the home runs) are going to come. If you hit it hard somewhere, it’s going to come.”
Taylor hit it hard all four times, once to the base of the left-field fence. Her first shot drove in the initial run of the contest. Jenna Bruick had led off the game with a walk and Katy Stillman had sacrificed her to second ahead of Taylor’s liner to left-center.
It grew into a big inning for the Lady Hornets when Jenkins walked and Sory cracked a single to right that was misplayed. Cyz scored and Bryant had runners at second and third. A walk to Cassidy Wilson loaded the bases.
Though Ashley Chaloner’s grounder to third produced a force at the plate, Yazza followed with a gapper for a two-run double. And when Hannah Rice’s long fly to left was played into a double, Bryant had a 6-0 lead.
In the second, Stillman drew a lead-off walk and Taylor smashed a liner to the fence that was hit so hard she only got a single. But a fly to center by Jenkins allowed the baserunners to advance to second and third for Sory, who lashed a double to chase them both home. She would follow moments later on a wild pitch, making it 9-0.
Conway’s first hit was misplayed drive to right that fell in for a double for Deona Howard. Shaw sacrificed her to third and Mallory Brooks lifted a sacrifice fly to left to make it 9-1.
The Lady Hornets final barrage in the top of the fifth began with a walk to Yazza. Rice was hit by a pitch and Bruick walked to load the bases. Stillman drew a pass to force in a run then Taylor drilled a two-run single to left.
After a pitching change, Jenkins parachuted a single into right-center to drive in Stillman and Cyz. Brittney Ball came on to run for the pitcher and advanced to second on a wild pitch and to third on a grounder to the right side by Sory. Wilson was robbed of a hit on a hot liner that was caught by Howard at short. But Chaloner singled Ball home with the final run.
Taylor Kuhn beat out an infield hit with one down in the bottom of the fifth and, after Jordan Yandell fanned, Emily Gould was hit by a pitch. But Jenkins finished it off with a strikeout.
The Lady Hornets are set to play their final home game today against Cabot. They have a return engagement at North Little Rock on Monday with the conference championship probably on the line. Bryant, now 11-1 in conference play, can clinch at least a tie for the regular-season title with a win over the Lady Panthers and gain an outright crown by avenging their loss to the Lady Charging Wildcats.