Lady Hornets begin quest for second title with breakout win over Har-Ber
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
BENTONVILLE — Every season has its share of adversity but on the Bryant Lady Hornets’ way to the 2010 Class 7A State[more] championship, things seemed to go pretty smoothly. Certainly by 2011 standards they did.
This season, it seems like there’s always been something. As the old Shakespeare line goes, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”
There had been adversity throughout the season and it didn’t let up at the end. To conclude the regular season, the Lady Hornets found themselves, though co-champs of the 7A-Central Conference, relegated to the second seed after being swept by the rival North Little Rock Lady Cats. And to wrap up the regular season, they’d actually suffered two setbacks in succession.
Now, that’s not that big a deal for most teams but, for a team with all but two starters back from a State championship run, it was something to ponder going into the State tourney in Bentonville.
And, after some soul-searching that included a players-only team meeting, the response was impressive. On Saturday, the Lady Hornets opened defense of their title with a convincing 10-0 run-rule win over the Springdale Har-Ber Lady Wildcats at the Tiger Athletic Complex at Bentonville High School.
The Lady Hornets, now 23-6, will take on 7A-West champion Fayetteville in one semifinal on Monday, May 16, at 6 p.m. In the other semifinal, North Little Rock takes on host Bentonville in another match of one seed vs. two seed.
Jessie Taylor, who recently made an oral commitment to play at UCA after her senior season next year, belted three hits and drove in three runs. Cassidy Wilson went 3 for 4 and freshman Kaley Coppock, inserted in the lineup for the last regular-season game on Tuesday, went 3 for 3 with three knocked in to lead the offense.
A rested Peyton Jenkins whipped up a one-hit shutout, allowing just three baserunners (the other two on a hit batter and an error) with six strikeouts.
“Peyton was so on,” declared head coach Debbie Clark. “We changed out lineup up a little bit. Sometimes you have to do that. We were looking for the strongest offensive line-up we could come up with. Jessie hit a couple of balls that — the wind was blowing straight in but if the wind had not been so strong, those would’ve been out.”
Taylor recently snapped her own school record for home runs in a season. She has 13.
“We’ve really worked this week about being a team,” Clark explained. “Coach (Nathan) Castaldi gave me this example of the iceberg. When a ship sinks because of an iceberg, it’s not what you see that sinks the ship, it’s what’s underneath. So we talking about how important those members of our team are who are the under part of that iceberg; you know, that come to practice every day and shag balls and do soft toss.
“So we really tried to build team unity,” she continued. “And my five juniors have stepped up tremendously. They are becoming the leaders that I’ve wanted them to be.”
Those juniors, who all played key roles in last year’s State championship run, are Jenkins, Taylor, Kayla Sory, Cassidy Wilson and Jenna Bruick.
“One of my goals this year was for the girls to become more self-motivated,” Clark related, referring to motivational feats she’d used in the past. “Instead of me having to eat a worm or break a board, I want them to be able to find that desire within themselves. I think it’s always been there. It’s just nobody’s kind of unleashed it for them.
“They had a team meeting (Saturday) morning,” the coach revealed. “They talked to me about it, made written notes and I went in and set up ground rules then just stepped out. I gave them 30 minutes and they came out a different team. It’s just incredible.
“(At game time) we get to the field and they’re just working so hard. We’re playing the game and the girls on the bench have all the girls’ helmets and bats and gloves and everything ready for them. It was really good stuff.”
Clark explained further, “There’s been a sense with the girls that we’ve not been real respected maybe. And I think a lot of it has to do with a couple of losses to North Little Rock and we’ve had more losses this year than we did last. Of course, there are a lot of different circumstances besides that, playing different teams and having illness. The girls got kind of mad about that. And it’s kind of the fire they needed, the hunger I was asking them to try to find. And they did. Their motto is, ‘Clear vision, full hearts and can’t lose.’ They’re getting it. They’re honestly getting it.”
In that regard, the coach mentioned, “I told them, y’all need to go out and make a statement. They came out and got five runs in the first inning and, after the inning, Cassidy came over to the huddle and she said, ‘We’re not satisfied, ladies.’”
After Har-Ber was retired in order (Jenkins set down the first seven in the game, five on strikes), the speedy Bruick opened the bottom of the inning with a slap to short. It only took a slight bobble for her to reach safely.
Freshman Katy Stillman bunted and wound up with a base hit. Thus, the table was set for Taylor who mashed a drive to right for a two-run triple. An out later, Sory singled her home to make it 3-0.
Wilson then put together a 10-pitch at-bat, fouling off six two-strike deliveries before drilled a double beyond the center fielder.
An illegal pitch allowed Sory to score and, with Wilson at third, Coppock produced a sacrifice fly that made it 5-0.
Carly Yazza reached on an error to start the fourth inning for the Lady Hornets. Bruick bunted her to second and, with two down, Taylor blasted a double to deep right-center to chase her home.
In the fifth, Wilson singled with one out and sprinted home when Coppock found the gap in right-center for a triple. Ashley Chaloner’s sacrifice fly made it 8-0.
The game came to an end when Bryant scored twice in the bottom of the sixth to make it a run-rule game. Taylor lined a one-out single to left and, after Stephanie Cyz came in as a courtesy runner, Sory reached on a two-out error. Wilson followed with her second double of the game to chase home Cyz then Coppock finished it off with a base hit to center to score Sory.
As it turned out, the Lady Hornets’ even faced adversity on Saturday, just trying to get to the game.
“I came up and scouted (Friday) and drove my truck up,” Clark explained. “Coach (DeAnna) Ward rode with Coach Castaldi and I met them at Van Buren. She drove the truck back and we ate. We got back on the bus and we’d been on it five minutes with the girls and it just started blowing diesel out. We stopped on (Interstate) 540 and it happened to be still in the Alma School District. Alma brought us up here and they fixed our bus. Coach (Tom) Farmer (Bryant athletic director and director of transportation) picked up the bus this morning to bring it to us but he only made it 10 miles and it blew again.
“So, he comes finally driving up in a Fayetteville bus,” Clark laughed. “And Fayetteville was playing the game before us. That’s who we play Monday. So, we pull into Bentonville, a Bryant team on a Fayetteville bus. It was pretty incredible. I told the girls, it’s yellow and it drives. What matters is what’s inside.”
After the game, the team went for dinner at a Chuckie Cheese.
“We just went and had so much fun as a team,” Clark said. “We had a ginormous pizza, huge desert. We had to relax tonight and they did it their way. They wanted to go someplace where they didn’t have to be quiet.
“It’s been a great day,” she concluded.