Helmich, Lady Cards stifle Bryant bats

HASKELL — Seeing their first action since March 20, the Bryant Lady Hornets managed just two hits and only had base-runners on in two innings as the Benton Harmony Grove Lady Cardinals’ lefty pitcher L.J. Helmich shackled their bats, striking out nine and walking just one in her team’s 7-2 win.

Regan Ryan and Maddie Stephens had the only two hits for the Lady Hornets, both were slow-rolling slaps on the infield that sparked the two-run fourth that had the game tied.

Harmony Grove, a highly-regarded Class 3A team which improved to 7-1 with the victory (the team’s seventh in a row since an opening loss to White Hall), jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first on a single by Faith Otts and an opposite-field homer by Leighton Withers when Bryant pitcher Raven Loveless was just two strikes away from getting out of the inning unscathed.

Loveless then proceeded to retire seven in a row.

Meanwhile, the only base-runner the Lady Hornets could muster against Helmich and the Lady Cards’ defense was Stephens who, with reached on a third-strike wild pitch with two down in the second.

In the top of the fourth, Ryan beat out her infield single and when second base was left uncovered, she rounded first and made it to second. Despite making the catch on the late throw at first, Otts had no one to relay it to at second.

Julie Ward sacrificed Ryan to third and nearly reached safely herself. But second baseman Baylee Rowton, a former Bryant player, scooped a short-hop throw at first for the out.

With two out, Helmich issued her lone walk to Macey Jaramillo who quickly stole second without a throw. Stephens, down to her last strike, got the bat on the ball and rolled one down the third-base line. She beat the throw to first as Ryan scored. And, again, with no one at second to take Otts’ throw, Stephens sprinted to second as Jaramillo held at third.

The Lady Hornets’ aggressive base-running helped get the tying run home. Loveless hit a grounder to short that Withers bobbled as Jaramillo headed home and Stephens raced to third. Loveless beat the delayed throw to first and the game was tied.

Callie Bradley ran for Loveless and stole second so the Lady Hornets had a pair of potential go-ahead runs in scoring position but Helmich ended the inning with a strikeout, keeping it tied.

That started a stretch in which the Harmony Grove pitcher retired 10 straight to end the game.

“She’s a good pitcher and we knew that,” said Lady Hornets coach Lisa Dreher. “We talked about the pitches she throws. We just did not perform. We weren’t ready to play ball today.”

The frustrated coach met with her team for an extended time after the contest.

“I told them they’re not paying attention in the dugout,” she related later. “We don’t know what to expect going to the plate because we’re just not paying attention. I told them it’s the little things that are going to win ballgames and that’s one of the things. I guess I just didn’t prepare them mentally.

“I did see some positive things, our base-running which we have been working on and I’ve been talking to them about,” the coach mentioned.

Bryant only committed two errors in the game but both played into late-game scoring for the Lady Cardinals. In the bottom of the fourth, Rowton singled and, after Loveless fanned Withers, Helmich slapped a single to left. A four-pitch walk to Rachel Kesterson loaded the bases.

Loveless and the Lady Hornets appeared to get just what they needed when Brooke Roush hit a sharp grounder to second. But the throw home was too wide and high for Ward to get to while keeping a toe on the plate for the force. So Rowton scored on the error.

And, with just one out on the board instead of two, Madison Mickle’s pop to right served as a sacrifice fly instead of an inning-ending out.

Loveless struck out Abbi Davis to end the uprising but Harmony Grove had a 4-2 lead.

The Lady Cards’ game-clinching, three-run sixth began with the second error on Helmich’s drive to left. Kesterson followed with a single and, with runners at the corners, senior Kerrigan Allen came on to pitch, hoping to work out of the jam.

Though she issued a walk to Roush to load the bases, she induced a sharp grounder to Shayla McKissock at third. She threw home to get a force out.

But Davis came through with a clutch singled just inside the line in left, driving in two runs. Otts followed with a swinging bunt that Ward jumped out to grab. Hoping to catch Mickle wandering off third, Ward faked to first and fired to third. Mickle, however, got back to the bag and the bases were full again.

Mickle scored moments later when Kylie Moore grounded to Sarah Evans at short who tagged Davis on her way to third.

The Lady Hornets, now 7-5, go from tough to tougher in their next game as they host defending Class 7A State champion North Little Rock this Thursday.

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