By Rob Patrick
For the fourth year in a row, the Bryant Lady Hornets will play for the Class 7A State softball championship at[more] Bogle Park in Fayetteville next Friday in a bid to win an unprecedented third consecutive title. They completed their season-long trek to get that return trip with a 7-0 win over the Springdale Har-Ber Lady Wildcats on Saturday afternoon that improved the team’s record to 33-0 this season.
The joy of their victory, however, was tempered by an injury to two-time State Tournament MVP, Peyton Jenkins. The senior went down on an 0-1 pitch to Har-Ber’s number nine hitter, Hailey Hudlow with two out in the top of the third inning, suffering a knee injury, the extent of which will probably not be know until Monday morning.
The revelation was the work of freshman pitcher Jordan Williams, who came in and retired Hudlow and, with the help of Bryant’s stellar defense and big bats, completed the shutout, allowing just two hits over the final 4 2/3 innings. She also contributed a fine defensive play herself.
“I’m so proud of Jordan,” said Lady Hornets coach Debbie Clark. “She’s a freshman and we asked her to step into the biggest game of her career so far and she did great. She made a statement for us and I’m proud of that.”
The championship game will be a rematch between the Lady Hornets and the Bentonville Lady Tigers, who outlasted Conway 10-9 in the other semifinal. Bryant defeated Bentonville for the 2010 championship.
“First of all, they’re the number one seed out of that (West) conference,” Clark said. “Second of all, they’ve got a great coach. We’ll be ready. They run well. They hit the ball and they’re not going to make many errors so we’ve got to put the ball in play, which is what we do every game.”
Against Har-Ber, the Lady Hornets jumped out to a quick lead, which has been their habit of late, but it came after Jenkins made a fine defensive play in the top of the first. Hannah Sharum had reached with a well-placed bunt for a hit with one out but Camille Burchfield hit a hump-back liner that Jenkins snagged. She fired to first to double up Sharum and end the inning.
Bryant’s first began with Jenna Bruick being hit by a pitch. Jenkins followed with a shot to center that got over the head of Bentonville’s Carlye Bohannan for a double. That brought up Jessie Taylor who, on an 0-1 pitch blasted a home run over the wall in center.
“That’s what we’ve been good about all year,” Clark said, “putting up runs early, and today was no different.”
Jenkins had struck out four in a row when she suffered her injury. After Williams came in and got the final out on a grounder to McKenzie Rice at third, the Lady Hornets increased their lead with Williams leading off the bottom of the third with a walk on four pitches.
Har-Ber changed pitchers with Hannah Bender taking over for starter Emily Stockalder. But Bender’s second pitch hit Taylor and, after both courtesy runners Kayla Jolley and Mercedes Dillard moved up on a wild pitch, Kayla Sory fouled off four 3-2 pitches then ripped a bouncer into the gap in left-center for a two-run double. An out later, Kaley Coppock singled in Sory to make it 6-0.
“It’s hard when something like that happens for a team to stay focused and they did a great job,” Clark said.
Williams issued her lone walk to start the fourth but the Lady Hornets made the defensive plays behind her and Har-Ber stranded the runner at third.
“That’s what so great about this team, they make the plays,” Clark added.
Tiffani Ray managed Har-Ber’s first hit off of Williams on a bloop to left-center to start the fifth. Kylee Buttrum bunted her to second and, with two down, Bender rifled a liner to the right side only to have Bruick leap up and snatch it for the third out.
The Lady Wildcats came as close to scoring as they would in the sixth when, with one out, Morgan Neal singled, stole second and advanced on a passed ball. Sharum followed with a bouncer back to Williams who turned to check on Neal and caught her starting to make a break toward home. Williams ran at her and when she committed to trying to return to third, the pitcher underhanded the ball to Rice who caught the ball at the base as Neal slid into the tag.
“Jenna made a great play,” Clark mentioned. “We had so many great plays. To get that girl out at third, Jordan gets the ball over there, that was great.”
Rice added some insurance in the bottom of the sixth with a two-out solo blast to right-center.
Williams worked a 1-2-3 seventh to finish off the win with the help of a nice running catch in shallow left by Carly Yazza for the second out.