By Rob Patrick
LITTLE ROCK — Comeback victories — they’re thrilling, they’re nerve-racking and, for a coach that’s trying to challenge a very good team to maximize its considerable potential, they can be downright aggravating.
The Bryant Lady Hornets, in a hastily scheduled game at Arkansas Baptist on Tuesday, never led until the last inning when they rallied for three runs to erase a 3-2 deficit then escaped a bases-loaded threat in the bottom of the inning to claim a 5-3 victory over a quality opponent.[more]
Faced with the prospect of going a full week without playing a game in the midst of the 7A-Central Conference stretch run, Bryant head coach Debbie Stepp got together with Arkansas Baptist coach Tim Yelvington on Monday to set the game up. Both teams had been scheduled to play in a tournament stacked with good competition at Sheridan on Saturday, but the weekend rains forced its cancellation.
Bryant was shut out by lefty fireballer Emily Guess and the Lady Eagles defense over the first four innings and trailed 3-1 going into the sixth. Jessie Taylor’s eighth home run of the season cut the lead to 3-2 going into the seventh and the Lady Hornets cracked three doubles to fuel the winning rally.
“Innings one through six, that’s why we scheduled it,” stated Stepp after acknowledging she was grateful for the win. “Our mental toughness is not where it needs to be going into the last half of this conference season. And I saw it innings one through six. I was ready to make some moves because I’ve got to figure out what we can do to play the way we did in inning seven from the start.
“I told the starting nine that’s what we’re going to talk about tomorrow,” she added, referring to Wednesday’s practice. “I’m going to talk with them individually. I’m going to ask them some hard questions and ‘I don’t know’ is not an answer. I need to know why we can’t play the first inning as if it’s inning seven.
“At the beginning of the season, I had them write some things down about what they thought Bryant softball was known for and one of the things they wrote down was that they could come back on people,” the coach recalled. “Now, that’s fine and dandy on some teams but you can’t live and die by that. I believe if you get ahead and work ahead, that circle out there, it becomes a lot easier to pitch from.
“I don’t know if that’s it but I’m going to work to find out what it is,” she emphasized. “I’ve got to be able to put my thumb on it. That’s my job to make them gel some way in some fashion.”
Bryant threatened to score in the first inning. Cassidy Wilson cracked the first of her two hits in the game but was picked off first by catcher Bailey Lowrey just moments before Peyton Jenkins drew a walk. Taylor beat out an infield hit but Guess ended the inning with a strikeout.
That started a stretch in which Guess retired 10 in a row. (Though she gave up a single to Jenkins in the fourth, Lowrey threw her out trying to steal.)
In the meantime, Arkansas Baptist grabbed the lead when Guess opened the second inning with a home run to center. After a dropped foul pop, Heather Witcher drew a walk and Brittney Tew blooped a single to left. Riley Roberts sacrificed the runners to second and third then Apple Filat tapped a slow roller between the pitcher’s circle and the plate. Jenkins, the Bryant pitcher, bare-handed the ball and tossed to the plate but Witcher was able to get a foot past Jenkins before the tag to make it 2-0.
Jenkins kept it at that by fanning Megan Bredensteiner and getting Alex Calvert to groundout to Jenna Bruick at second.
The Lady Eagles threatened again in the fourth when Witcher his a drive to deep center that Kelsie Works nearly tracked down. But it went for a double. On a tap back to the mound, Jenkins whirled to try to catch Witcher wandering too far off second but her throw was high and the baserunner was able to get back under the tag.
With runners at first and second, Jenkins got Robert to pop out to Taylor then fanned Filat. An infield single by Bredensteiner loaded the bases but Calvert popped to Bruick to keep it 2-0.
Bryant broke through with a run in the top of the fifth. Shanika Johnson walked and Works was hit by a pitch to set the table for Ashley Chaloner who blistered a drive to left that Bredensteiner nearly flagged down for an RBI double.
Despite having runners at second and third and no one out, the Lady Hornets were unable to get anymore as Guess fanned two and got a pop up to escape with the lead.
And, in the bottom of the inning, the Lady Eagles got the run back. Jessalyn Parsley beat out a bunt single and, after Johnson made a nice grab of a liner off Lowrey’s bat, saving a hit, Guess walked and Witcher was hit by a pitch to load the bags. Tew followed with a fly to left. Chaloner came on to make the catch and fired home as Parsley was tagging. She and Chaloner’s throw got to Taylor at about the same time. The two players made contact and Taylor was unable to haul in the throw.
A nifty play by Wilson at short got Bryant out of the inning. Roberts followed with a slow bouncer to Wilson as Erin Jackson, running for Guess, headed home. Witcher hesitated to break off second as Wilson fielded the ball but when the Bryant shortstop faked a throw to first, Witcher took off and ran right into the tag.
Still, the Lady Hornets were down by two with six outs left.
Jenkins opened the sixth with a shot that carried out to Parsley in center for the first out. Taylor then walloped a 1-1 delivery over the fence in left-center to make it a 3-2 game.
Kayla Sory followed with a shot in the gap in right-center for a double. She moved to third on a bunt by Johnson but was stranded when Guess recorded another of her eight strikeouts.
Jenkins pitched around an error in the bottom of the sixth to set up Bryant’s surge to the lead in the top of the seventh. Chaloner started the uprising with a bloop double down the right-field line. McKenzie Rice came on to run for her and held as Hannah Rice’s bunt was lined to Guess then Bruick rolled one to Calvert at short. Calvert’s only hope of a play on the ball was to try to catch Rice off second so with the potential tying and lead run on base, Wilson came up and lashed the first pitch into the right-field corner for a game-tying double.
Two pitches later, Jenkins blasted one that missed being a home run to right-center by half a foot. Bruick and Wilson scored on the two-bagger to put Bryant up 5-3.
Guess kept it at that by getting Taylor to fly to right then striking out Sory.
With the middle of the Lady Eagles’ batting order coming up, that was no small thing either.
Lowrey led off the bottom of the seventh with a bloop single to left that fell just beyond the reach of Stephanie Cyz.
Guess came up as the potential tying run but Jenkins got her to bounce to Bruick who charged the ball, caught it and tagged Lowrey then fired a throw to Sory at first. On a bang-bang play, Guess was ruled safe. That kept the inning alive when Jenkins struck out Witcher.
With Tew at the plate, she got within a strike of ending it but her 0-2 pitch was bounced into left for a base hit. A walk to Roberts loaded the bases and Yelvington sent up pinch-hitter Jordan Pope.
But Jenkins struck her out on four pitches, her eighth punch-out of the game, to end it there.
The Lady Eagles stranded 11 baserunners in the game while Bryant left on six.
Bryant improved to 18-2 overall going into a trip to Russellville on Thursday for a 7A-Central tilt.
“We needed to be challenged — our discipline, our mental side,” Stepp stated. “Thursday’s pitcher is not going to pitch the same speed as this one but we’re still going to be in the batter’s box with umpires you can’t control and not on our own field.
“So, today I wanted us to see live pitching that wasn’t our pitching and have these game situations,” she concluded. “In practice, we can try to do that doubleplay thing where one’s out and one’s not. But it doesn’t carry the same weight as right here in the seventh inning. That’s what they’ve got to learn. And whether we thought she was out or safe, we go with the umpire and we go with the next pitch.”