Johnson drives in game-winner for Lady Hornets in the bottom of the seventh

The next time Bryant Lady Hornets senior Shanika Johnson comes to the plate with a game on the line, she can make like a TV news anchor and, “Roll tape.”

In her head, that is.

Johnson cracked an RBI double with one out in the bottom of the seventh to drive in Kayla Sory with the only run of Tuesday’s 7A-Central Conference softball showdown between the Lady Hornets and the Cabot Lady Panthers.

The 1-0 victory improved the Lady Hornets to 15-1 overall but, more importantly, kept their league mark unblemished going into Thursday’s rematch between the Class 7A State finalists, Bryant and North Little Rock, at Burns Park. North Little Rock is also unbeaten in the conference.[more]

Cabot came in with designs on its own share of first. With a win over Bryant and a Bryant victory at North Little Rock, it would’ve lifted the Lady Panthers into a three-way tie for first. Instead, they dropped to 3-2, still along in third place in the league but, at this point, still outside looking in on the conference leaders.

For Bryant, it was a bounce-back win after the team suffered its first loss of the season on Monday at Greenbrier.

But it was a tight game from the get-go and went to the home seventh scoreless.

“I brought them over and I said, ‘Close your eyes,’” recounted Lady Hornets coach Debbie Stepp regarding the meeting between innings. “’I want you to visualize when you’ve been in a situation like this before. You’ve played enough softball that you’ve been there and done that. I want you to see yourself hitting the ball, getting on base and scoring the winning run; you hitting the ball and getting the winning RBI.’”

With one out, Sory scorched one to third that was knocked down. The rushed throw to first was in the dirt and skipped past the first baseman allowing Sory to reach second. Moments later, Johnson raked a double to left to win it.

“Afterwards, I met with them,” Stepp related, “and I looked at Shanika, my only senior, and I said, ‘Now, that goes in your VCR, in your memory box, and we’re going to be faced with this again and you’re going to be able to close your eyes and you’re going to be able to play this again.’

“We were two comparable teams,” she noted. “They had more chances to score than we did but we played well defensively and Peyton (Jenkins) pitched well. I thought JT (catcher Jessie Taylor) called a good game behind the plate and then we finally got a break in the seventh inning. A great win — a conference win in this conference is a great win.”

Jenkins started the game by retiring the first nine batters she faced, four on strikes. She walked Caitlinn Gunn to start the fourth but then retired three more in a row.

The Lady Hornets managed to get a runner in scoring position in both the second and third off Cabot’s Kendall Calderon. In the second, Sory doubled down the right-field line but was stranded. In the third, Jenna Bruick cracked a two-out triple into the left-field corner but got no further than third.

Taylor led off the fourth with a single but the inning came to naught.

“They were real excited to start the game,” Stepp said of her team. “They said, ‘Coach, we’re ready.’ So, we went out really excited.

“We were putting the bat on the ball, we just couldn’t hit it where nobody was,” she added. “They made the plays. We’d get somebody on then we couldn’t move them. I kept trying to encourage, talking to the girls about staying aggressive, playing to win, not playing not to lose.”

Cabot threatened in the fifth when Brooke Taylor singled to center for her team’s first hit. Pete Reed followed with a single to left so there were two on and no one out. Jenkins got Taylor Anderson to bounce to Bruick for a force at second and, with runners at first and third, she struck out the next two to keep it scoreless.

After Calderon worked around a two-out single by Kelsie Works in the bottom of the inning, the Lady Panthers put two on again. This time, Chelsea Conrade singled with one out. After a sacrifice attempt was popped up, Sory charged in from first to make the play for the second out. But an error allowed Tara Boyd to reach base, putting Conrade in scoring position.

Jenkins, however, got the next batter to ground to Cassidy Wilson at short to escape again.

“We got out of two innings defensively,” Stepp noted. “They came over and I said, ‘If that doesn’t fire you up, I don’t know what’s going to fire you up.’”

But the Lady Hornets went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the sixth. Jenkins returned the favor in the top of the seventh finishing with her eighth strikeout to set up the dramatic finish.

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