Junior Gianni Hulett came through for the Bryant Lady Hornets Tuesday night, at the plate, in the field and in the circle as they picked up their second 6A-Central Conference victory, 1-0, in nine innings.
With two out in the bottom of the ninth, Hulett lined a single over the second baseman’s head for the game-winning hit, driving in Joely Calhoun from third, ending the duel with the Fort Smith Northside Lady Bears and their pitcher Cailin Massey.
Through seven innings, Hulett had a two-hit shutout and Massey had blanked the Lady Hornets on two knocks.
“I believe it’s the same pitcher they’ve had,” said Lady Hornets coach Lisa Dreher. “She’s just gotten better. She’s improved, and she wasn’t bad last year. They played us close — I don’t remember if it was here or there. We had to fight for it.”
Northside’s defense had improved as well.
But the defensive play of the game came in the top of the ninth. With Massey at second, Northside’s Danessa Teague popped a bunt over the head of hard-charging third baseman Maddie Thompson for a base hit that put runners at first and third with no one out.
The next batter, Chloe Ray tapped back to Hulett in the circle. She turned to see that Massey was down the line at third, ran at her and forced her back to third. A quick throw to Thompson nabbed her.
Thompson then alertly noticed that Teague was in between second and third, ran her back towards second then flipped the ball to shortstop Meagan Chism for a huge doubleplay.
Ray stayed at first but never got further and Hulett struck out clean-up hitter Mairady Dempsey to end the inning.
Hulett, with 10 strikeouts, charged off the mound after the narrow escape.
“It was clutch,” Dreher said of the defensive gem. “I’m proud of her.”
In the bottom of the inning, Calhoun was placed at second. Christina Mefford tried to pop a bunt over Massey’s head, but the pitcher got back to catch it in the air for the first out. Thompson followed and sacrificed Calhoun to third and, on the very next pitch, Hulett won it.
“We were waiting on that breakthrough hit for nine innings and G finally did it,” Dreher noted.
“We need to swing it better,” she asserted. “I know what we need to work on.”
With the wind blowing in, the Lady Hornets might’ve hit two or three homers had the conditions been otherwise.
“We can’t count on that,” stated Dreher. “We were making the same hitting mistakes — I see what they’re doing. We were doing that yesterday at Mount St. Mary’s. We were just getting away with it.
“So, we have some stuff to clean up, but I know what we need to work on,” she concluded.
The victory improved the Lady Hornets to 5-2 overall and 2-0 in league play.
“I’ll take it,” said the coach.
Bryant only finished with three hits in the game. Hulett had one of the others in the first inning, a liner to right that was misplayed allowing her to reach second. She tagged and went to third on Aly Bower’s fly to right but, after Dillon was issued the only walk of the game, Massey escaped by getting Chism to fly to left.
The Lady Bears had their best chance to score during regulation in the top of the second. With two out, Maddy Worden singled to center and Shanoe Teague reached on an error. But Hulett fanned Hannah Entrekin to retire the side.
In the third, Kylie Templemeyer singled to left but was stranded. Hulett and the Bryant defense then set down eight in a row.
Templemeyer reached on a two-out error in the fifth then Danessa Teague reached safely in the sixth when a comebacker to Hulett resulted in a throw into the base-runner that second baseman Alissa Suarez was unable to get to. She collided with Teague and both were shaken up. Suarez appeared to take a knee or an elbow to the forehead and Dreher took her out as a precaution.
Teague wound up getting thrown out trying to steal second then Hulett set down the next two to send it to the home sixth. It also started another string of eight in a row she retired.
For Bryant, Hulett reached on an error with two out in the third but was thrown out trying to sneak into second.
The Lady Hornets had another chance to score in the fifth when Hayleigh Beck’s grounder to second was booted. Aryonnah Briggs came on as a pinch-runner and went to second on a sacrifice by Bella Herring then third on another by Suarez. But she was stranded there.
Chism burned the left-fielder for a double with one out in the seventh but when she tried to tag and go to third on a short fly to right by Beck, Worden threw her to third where Chism slid around a tag initially but missed the base and had to try to dive back in before Jenna Wilson’s tag. She was ruled out, despite Dreher’s protests.
So, the game went to extra innings. In the top of the eighth, Hulett fanned two and got Massey to tap back to the circle.
For Bryant, Briggs started at second and Herring sacrificed her to third. Calhoun rolled one toward shortstop as Briggs headed toward the plate. Dempsey, a slick fielder, charged the ball and threw home in time for the out.
Moments later, Calhoun was thrown out trying to steal second and it went to the dramatic ninth.
The game finished up Bryant’s pre-Spring Break schedule. They’ll travel to Murfreesboro, Tenn., for the Southern Warrior Classic tournament during the break.å