By Rob Patrick
A few days before the Bryant Lady Hornets were set to begin their quest for a third[more] straight State championship, pitcher Peyton Jenkins was off to Memphis to visit her pitching coach Ernie Parker.
Bryant head coach Debbie Clark explained why, saying, “Because one of her pitches wasn’t doing what she wanted it to do. She’s 31-0 with 200-and-something strikeouts, and she wanted to fine tune.”
And it’s not like she throws just one or two, maybe three pitches. She throws more than an handful, maybe two hands full. Still, she felt one of the many in her arsenal needed tweaking.
“That’s impressive to me,” Clark said. “That shows me that she’s trying to get ready mentally and physically for this tournament.”
It was impressive to everyone including the Rogers Lady Mounties who faced her in the quarterfinals of the Class 7A tournament on Friday at the Lady Hornets Field. Jenkins allowed two base-runners in the game, both in the first inning and only one on a hit then retired 16 in a row and struck out 11 in her team’s 10-0 win.
Jenkins, Kaley Coppock and Kayla Sory each belted home runs to end the season of the shell-shocked Rogers team.
Bryant, now 32-0, with a 35-game win streak dating back to last year’s State tournament run, will face either Springdale Har-Ber or Central Conference rival Mount St. Mary in Saturday’s semifinal at 2:30 p.m. (weather permitting).
Jenkins and Coppock hit their homers as part of a six-run first inning. In fact, Jenkins’ blast came on the first strike Rogers pitcher Haylee Zimmerman threw. Bryant lead-off hitter Jenna Bruick had walked on four pitches then Jenkins had taken her fifth pitch for a ball before unloading for a 2-0 lead.
Jessie Taylor drew a walk, Sory singled to right and, after Cassidy Wilson bunted them to second and third, Coppock ripped a 2-2 pitch over the boards in center to make it 5-0.
Katy Stillman nearly joined the parade with a shot of the top of the wall for a double. She scored on a single to center by McKenzie Rice to make it a half dozen runs.
“We came in and did what we wanted to do,” Clark said. “This is the State Tournament so it’s a new season. It’s a one-game season and the girls know that they have to win each game and take it day by day. We’ve talked about what we need to do. We scouted Rogers at the Van Buren tournament about a month ago then we scouted them yesterday so we knew what the pitcher threw and I think we did a really good job in that first inning. It’s hard to come back when you’ve scored six runs.”
Or you’re facing Jenkins and the Bryant defense, which made al the plays they got a chance to. In the first, Ashley Ferguson reached on the error but when she tried to steal second the ball was waiting on her in the glove of Wilson, the shortstop, after Taylor, Bryant’s catcher, had rifled a throw to her.
After Jennifer Gonzalez struck out, Chandler Little looped a single to right-center for what turned out to be the lone Rogers hit. When Ryan Vaughn struck out, it started the stretch in which 16 in a row were retired. The first four were all strikeouts.
The Lady Hornets loaded the bases in the second on singles by Taylor and Coppock and an error that allowed Sory to reach base but Zimmerman and the Lady Mounties escaped with no further damage.
In the fourth, however, Jenkins walked and, after courtesy runner Kayla Jolley was forced at second on a grounder by Taylor, Sory blasted a two-run shot to make it 8-0 putting the Lady Hornets two runs away from a run-rule win in five frames.
“By the fourth, I was telling them we were two runs behind, let’s play like we’re two runs behind,” Clark mentioned. “I don’t want them to get too comfortable. We cannot be comfortable right now.”
They made a bid to do just that in the bottom of the fifth. Stillman singled and Rice beat out an infield hit. A wild pitch moved them to second and third and Bruick got a run in on a grounder to short. With Rice at third, Jenkins came up but Vaughn, the new Rogers pitcher, got her to bounce to third to end the inning and keep the game going at least one more inning.
Given the extra at-bat, Rogers was retired in order again with Jenkins recording her 10th and 11th punch-out before getting Ferguson to groundout to second. In the home sixth, Taylor ripped a double to left and, with Mercedes Dillard in as a courtesy runner, Coppock hit a shot to the left of Ferguson at short. She got a glove on it but couldn’t stop it and Dillard scored to end the game.