Lady Hornets are State champions again
EDITOR’S NOTE: In this time of COVID-19, with no sports action, BryantDaily.com will be posting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By Rob Patrick
Photos by Kevin Nagle, for more go here.
FAYETTEVILLE — In the end, the Bryant Lady Hornets walked off the field like they’d done it before.
And, of course, they had.
For the second year in a row, the Lady Hornets captured the Class 7A State championship with a lopsided win in the final. Last year, they dismissed the Bentonville Lady Tigers, 13-4. This year, they overwhelmed the rival North Little Rock Lady Charging Wildcats, 11-1.
Despite all the pressure that goes with winning a State championship and all the challenges of getting back to the final to a chance at a repeat, there are obvious advantages once you get that taken care of.
You’ve done it before and you’ve won it before.
The comfort level that was a product of their experience contrasted with the difficulty the Lady Cats had. The same North Little Rock team that had defeated the Lady Hornets twice in the regular season while playing nearly flawlessly in the field, committed a stunning seven errors (officially, seven; it probably should’ve been six).
Though the North Little Rock seniors had been, as sophomores, a part of a team that came and won two years ago, as the game went along the proverbial ball started downhill and they never could recover.
That was in large part due to the stellar pitching of Peyton Jenkins, who took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and wound up allowing just three without a walk, while striking out 10. For the second time, she was named the tournament MVP.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed. I really thought J.T. (catcher Jessie Taylor) deserved it more than I did.”
It helped that Jenkins had nearly recovered completely from the mononucleosis she’d been struggling with over the last month.
“She dominated,” declared Lady Hornets coach Debbie Clark who led a team to a State title for the third year in a row. (It was at Wynne the year before she came to Bryant last season.) “She knew what had to be done and she did it. This is her third year to play in the final and she knew what she wanted. She led from the mound. She’s struggled with illness this year and I’m so proud of the athlete and the young lady she’s becoming mentally on the field.”
“Today I felt stronger than the last few games,” Jenkins acknowledged. “The heat really seems to get to me. I’ve really worked on trying to get stronger. I’ve taken vitamins and electrolytes to try to overcome this mono.
“Right now, I’m a little drained and I have a headache but I realized that I had to push through for my team, not just for me,” she added. “We came together and they helped me. I felt like I could rely on my defense to help me out. I felt like I didn’t have to strike out everybody to win this game.”
Though there were a couple of errors that led to North Little Rock’s lone run in the first, the Lady Hornets had no others and, along the way, turned in some splendid defensive plays.
The Lady Hornets took advantage of those errors, too, with 13 hits (should’ve been 14) including three by freshman first baseman Kaley Coppock, who became a starter not more than two weeks ago, to bolster the offense. Jenna Bruick was credited with two hits (though it should’ve been three) while Jenkins, Kayla Sory, Ashley Chaloner and Carly Yazza each had two hits. Every Bryant starter reached base at least twice in the game.
“I’m really proud,” Clark stated. “If you look at the stats, every one on my team, one through nine, got through. That’s been my goal all year, for people to look across and say, ‘Seven, eight and nine — oh, my gosh, they’ve been on base. Four, five, six — oh, no. We can’t pitch around them.’ That’s been the goal for the ‘Beasts’, one through nine, strong hitters and everybody fears them at the plate.
“We made a change right before the State tournament,” she added. “We felt like it was what we needed to do. We moved our first baseman Kayla Sory out to center field and moved Kaley Coppock in at first base. They said her name wrong (on the p.a.), called her Copper. We told her if you go 3-for-3 they’ll know what your name is by the end of the game. And she did it. Amazing. That’s a freshman that stepped on the field in this State tournament and did what I needed her to do and the team needed her to do. She’s a ‘Beast.’”
Clark, who has gained some notoriety (not to mention success) from her motivational ploys, including breaking a board last year and, two years ago, eating a worm, took a different tack this season but, again, made a point.
“My whole thing this year is for my girls to learn how to motivate within themselves, so out on the field, they can be self motivated,” she explained. “So, we took yarn last night and we went through the process of making a rope. By the time we got finished we couldn’t tell which was Peyton’s thread, which was my thread, which was the thread of the girls sitting on the bench. It was all intertwined as one and it’s strong. One piece of yarn by itself, it can break. But that rope will hold up at least a 300-pound man. And that rope tied us together. On the way over, we all held onto it and listened to the song by Rascal Flatts, ‘I Will Stand By You.’ We all walked in holding onto the rope and now I’ll cut the rope and give each of them a piece of it to keep forever.”
As usual, she also sat her team down before the game for some visualization and among the things she wanted her players to do was to think about someone who wasn’t there. As it turned out, she had someone of her own in mind.
“Three years in a row. It’s incredible,” she stated emotionally after the game. “I dedicated this one to my little mama, who’s really sick and couldn’t be here. So it means a whole lot and I can’t express it.”
Ironically, in both of the regular-season games between the two teams, Bryant took the early lead and fell victim to a North Little Rock comeback. This time, the Lady Cats scored first and the Lady Hornets roared back.
Tiffany Roby reached on an error to start the bottom of the first for North Little Rock. She stole second and, after Hannah Escovedo struck out, took third on a wild pitch with Callie Simmons at the plate. Simmons popped up a 2-2 pitch. Bryant third baseman McKenzie Rice faded back into foul ground down the left-field line and made a splendid over the shoulder catch. Roby had tagged and was about halfway down the baseline toward home when Rice whirled and threw a strike that looked like it would get home well before Roby could. She actually stopped and it figured the Lady Hornets would get her in a hotbox. But Rice’s throw struck her and ricocheted toward the fence allowing her to come on in with what turned out to be the only run for her team.
After Roby had reached base, Jenkins and the Lady Hornets’ defense retired 13 in a row. By the time, Erin Columbus ended that streak with a one-out single in the fifth, Bryant had built an 8-0 lead.
“I was a lot more comfortable, yet nervous because they did beat us twice in conference,” Jenkins said. “I was really confident in my teammates. We’ve really come together the last two weeks, way stronger than we were two weeks ago. We changed our defense and I felt good about it. I felt us being here for the third time, that it’s a different atmosphere but it’s the same field. That’s what we told the freshmen.”
Time after time, the Lady Cats would make good contact but pull the ball well foul.
“We tend to throw a lot of inside stuff and let them foul off those long foul balls, make them feel good about themselves,” Jenkins explained. “Throw them inside and they’re not going to hit it fair. If they do hit it fair, they’re only going to be dribblers. So we tend to do that to get ahead in the count and then we come high and in to strike them out.”
Clark got her wish regarding her lineup as the lower half instigated three of the four offensive outbursts. The first time was in the top of the second when, with one out, Coppock shot the first of her three singles up the middle for Bryant’s initial hit against Simmons. Chaloner pulled a base hit to left and, with two down, Bruick, the lead-off hitter, came through with a liner to right-center to tie the game.
Katy Stillman followed with a bouncer to short that Roby booted, loading the bases for Taylor. Simmons pitched carefully to the Bryant slugger (13 home runs on the season) and wound up walking in a run.
In the second, Cassidy Wilson reached on an error with one out and Coppock shot a single into left. With two down, it was Yazza’s turn to come through in the clutch. A strike away from coming up empty, the Lady Hornets picked up a run on Yazza’s double down the left-field line.
With runners at second and third, Bruick chopped one to third that was misplayed, allowing Coppock to score, making it 4-1.
The Lady Hornets took control of the game in the fifth. This time, Coppock led off the inning with a lined single to center. An out later, Yazza chopped one over Simmons’ head. The North Little Rock pitcher reached hit and tipped the ball, scrambled after it and threw wildly to first, allowing Coppock to hustle to third.
Bruick came up again with runners at the corners and ripped a single up the middle to make it 5-1.
After the Lady Cats brought on Alexandra Seaton to pitch, Stillman sacrificed to get runners to second and third for Taylor whose grounder to the left of the third sacker was misplayed. Yazza scored and Bruick took third. Hannah Rice came in to run for Taylor and a wild pitch allowed Bruick to sprint home. With Rice at third, Jenkins yanked a liner
down the left-field line for an RBI double and it was 8-1.
Jenkins pitched around the single in the fifth thanks to a nice running catch in shallow left-center by Yazza for the second out then a sweet back-hand stab and throw to first by McKenzie Rice at third to end the inning.
In the sixth, Escovedo doubled with two down but was stranded.
The Lady Hornets put the finishing touches on their rout in the top of the seventh. Jenkins singled with one out and Stephanie Cyz ran for her. She moved up on a wild pitch and scored on a deep drive by Sory that hit the base of the fence in left-center for a double. Wilson followed with a roller to third that drew a wild throw to first. Sory scored and Wilson wound up at third. She scored from there when Coppock grounded out to second.
Jenkins finished strong by striking out the side around a bloop single by Columbus. After recording the second out, she sauntered calmly toward to dugout and, after she crossed the foul line, the celebration began.