FAYETTEVILLE — In 32 games this season through Friday’s 3-0 win over the Rogers Heritage Lady War Eagles, the most runs any team had been able to score against the Bryant Lady Hornets had been 8 by Sheridan back on March 9. Bryant won that game 9-8 on a dramatic walk-off homer by Sarah Evans.
On May 8, the Lady Jackets scored 7 in in a win over the Lady Hornets. No one else managed more than 4 runs the entire season including the North Little Rock Lady Charging Wildcats, whom Bryant defeated 6-2 and 6-3.
So, it’s hard to imagine what happened on Saturday in the semifinals of the Class 7A State tournament at Asbell Park.
Bryant piled up nine runs on 14 hits but a very different North Little Rock team showed up. Incredibly, the Lady Cats outdid that, coming away with a shocking 17-9 victory, to advance to the 7A finals for a rematch of the 2016 title game with Bentonville.
In the process, they dashed the hopes of the Lady Hornets who had rolled undefeated through the 7A-Central Conference and lost just twice to in-state opponents all season. They finish with a 28-5 record.
“We knew it’d be hard to beat them three times,” said Bryant head coach Lisa Dreher. “You have to give North Little Rock credit for one of the best offensive performances I’ve ever seen. They’d been flat throughout conference and seemed to come to life at State.
“We had a lot of things happen in the game that nobody would have ever predicted,” she acknowledged. “We rolled with it all the best we could but they just out-played us in the end.”
Bryant jumped out to an early advantage but, after holding North Little Rock scoreless over the first two innings, the Lady Hornets couldn’t get the Lady Cats out in any frame without surrendering a run over several.
Bryant was led by Evans, who had three hits including a three-run bomb and a double. Gianni Hulett, Meagan Chism, Raven Loveless and Brooklyn Trammell each had two hits for the Lady Hornets. Both by Chism and Trammell were doubles. Loveless drove in three.
But for North Little Rock, Marissa Mitchell, Cassidy Tucker and Anna Beaver each had three hits. Tucker drove in four, Beaver and Reagan Sperling knocked in three apiece.
The Lady Hornets grabbed a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Regan Ryan singled and Hulett reached on an error. With one out, Evans blasted her homer.
Macey Jaramillo followed with a single but was stranded.
As usual, Hulett and Loveless traded off in the pitching circle for Bryant. Hulett started and recorded the two blank innings on one hit.
Lilly Douglas came on in relief of North Little Rock starter Katelynn McMahan in the second inning and pitched around Trammell’s first double.
After Bryant switched pitchers, North Little Rock struck for four runs in the top of the third. Singles by Lauren Lester, Beaver, Sperling and Mitchell cut the lead to 3-2. Madi Bobbitt tied it with a sacrifice fly then Tucker capped the inning with an RBI single.
After a walk to McMahan, Hulett returned to the circle and got Douglas to tap out to first to bring the uprising to an end.
That lead didn’t last long. In Bryant’s third, Chism crushed a double and Evans blooped a single. A free pass to Jaramillo loaded the bases for Loveless who singled to chase in two, putting the Lady Hornets back in front, 5-4.
Maddie Stephens reached on an error. With the sacks full, Madison Lyles walked to make it 6-4 with still no one out in the inning. But Trammell’s grounder to first resulted in a force at home. Ryan’s tapped back to Douglas had the same result. With two down, Hulett tagged the first pitch she got from Douglas only to have the liner carry out to Autumn McCowan in center.
Back came North Little Rock. McCowan and Beaver singled then Sperling’s double plated them both to tie it 6-6. Michell singled Sperling to third and Bobbitt’s sacrifice fly snapped the tie.
Despite a lead-off double by Chism in the bottom of the fourth, the Lady Hornets were unable to answer.
Walks to McMahan and Douglas started the top of the fifth. McCowan sacrificed them to second and third before pinch-hitter Gracie Kimbrell singled in a run ahead of a three-run blast by Beaver that ballooned the lead to 11-6.
The Lady Hornets kept after it on offense. Lyles singled, Trammell doubled and, with two down, Hulett doubled both home to make it a three-run game.
But the Lady Cats added a run in the top of the sixth. Tucker singled, McMahan walked and Douglas was struck by a pitch to load the bases for McCowan, who singled to center to drive in the run. McMahan appeared to score as well but Dreher appealed to the umpires regarding McMagan touching third on her way home. The protest held and McMahan’s run didn’t count.
It was 12-8 going into the bottom of the sixth.
Bryant kept the pressure on. Evans doubled to left, tagged and went to third on a fly to center by Jaramillo then scored on a single by Loveless. With two down, Lyles reached on an error, bringing the potential tying run to the plate but Douglas got off the hook with a strikeout.
North Little Rock blew the game up in the top of the seventh. An error, a walk and an infield hit loaded the bases. Loveless fanned Bobbitt but Tucker followed with a bases-clearing double. McMahan followed with a two-run homer to set the final score.
Suddenly down by 8, the Lady Hornets made some noise in the bottom of the seventh when Ryan reached on an error and Hulett beat out an infield hit.
But the Lady Hornets were frustrated again as Douglas set down the next three to end the game.
With all but one starter (Jaramillo) returning next year, the Lady Hornets have a chance to take the 2018 season a step or two further.
“That gives us a little comfort,” Dreher said, “but it’s still tough.”