BENTONVILLE — With all the adversity the Bryant Lady Hornets softball team went through in 2019, their 10-8 win over Van Buren in the first round of the Class 6A State Tournament at Bentonville High School on Thursday, looked like it would be a promising topper to the season.
That was especially so because the Lady Hornets’ second-round foe would be the champions of the 6A-West Conference and defending State runner-up, the Bentonville Lady Wolverines who, incidentally, ended a much more promising season for Bryant in 2018, 2-1.
It didn’t figure to be close this time. Bentonville West, with almost everyone back, came in with a 22-3 record.
But when Bryant’s Alissa Suarez belted a solo homer with two strikes and two outs in the top of the sixth, lo and behold, the Lady Hornets looked very much like they would turn the tables on the Lady Wolverines. Suarez’ shot had Bryant ahead 3-2.
Freshman pitcher Christine Mefford, who had relieved in the fourth inning and frustrated the Lady Wolverines, with her change-up and curveball making her fastball seem quicker, into the bottom of the sixth.
She retired the first batter of the sixth on a nice catch in center by Caitlin LaCerra. Elise Sokolsky followed with a pinch-hit single. Sarah Cooper, in to run for Sokolsky, was awarded second base on an illegal pitch but Mefford got the second out when Carlee Durham popped out to catcher Regan Dillon.
So, the Lady Hornets were just an out away from escaping the inning. Mary Beth Dyson, however, barely beat out a bunt single to put runners at second and third. A pitch later, Hallie Wacaser hit a high drive up into the wind and sailed out of the park for a three-run homer that turned Bryant’s 3-2 lead into a 5-3 deficit.
West put two more runners aboard in the inning but Mefford got Ryen Rassi to fly out to Joely Calhoun in left to prevent more damage.
With just three outs left in their season, the Lady Hornets’ senior Meagan Chism cracked a two-out single. LaCerra tried to beat out a bunt but West pitcher Emma Wood got to the ball and threw to first in time for the final out.
“It was a good game,” said Lady Hornets head coach Lisa Dreher. “Christine was hot in the circle, hitting all her spots. She had a rough outing (Thursday) pitching in the rain for the first time ever. I think she felt like she had something to prove and I think she proved it.”
Dreher didn’t mind the underdog status.
“That’s a really good spot to be in,” she asserted. “They just got up there and did what they do. I’m proud of them.
“They just figured out they’ve still got to hit one at a time, just play softball,” she said of the team’s renewal after a mid-conference slump. “We just simplified things and quit over-thinking, just went out there and played softball. I’m happy with them. They definitely gave it everything they had, everything I asked of them, and pushed through.”
The Lady Hornets finished the season 19-13. They lose four seniors including two starters, Meagan Chism and Aly Bowers. Chism has been a four-year starter.
“Aly hit the ball really hard yesterday and, of course, Meagan, offensively and defensively, we’ll have a hard time replacing her,” Dreher noted. “We have a good core coming back and a lot of young girls coming in, I think. So, we’ll start again.”
With junior Hannah Work started in the circle for the Lady Hornets. West loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the opening frame. Rassi singled in the run but the Lady Hornets turned a doubleplay when Sydney Sneed grounded to Maddie Thompson at third. She threw home to get the lead runner then Dillon, the Bryant catcher, fired back to Thompson at third to end the uprsing.
Wood pitched around a two-out single by Suarez in the top of the second then Work kept West off the board despite a lead-off knock by Madison Johnson.
In the third, however, Wacaser singled and stole second. A passed ball allowed her to reach third. Honesty Holt’s sacrifice fly to center made it 2-0. The next two were retired, sending it to the fourth.
A two-out triple by Dillon went for naught for the Lady Hornets. In the bottom of the inning, Sneed singled and Johnson walked. Wood flew out to Calhoun in left but when Durham singled, the bases were loaded.
Mefford relieved at that point. Dyson hit a liner back to the circle. Mefford knocked it down and fired home for a force. She got Wacaser to fly out to Calhoun to end the threat with the score still 2-0.
Buoyed by the Houdini act, the Lady Hornets rallied to tie it in the top of the fifth. Suarez drew a lead-off walk then Haleigh Beck waited out a free pass as well. Bella Herring beat out a bunt hit to load the bases and, with one out, Chism cracked an RBI single to center.
LaCerra’s bunt was fielded by Wood. She threw home for a force but, moments later, Thompson ripped a single to right. Herring scored but when Chism tried to follow, the Lady Wolverines executed their relay efficiently and got the out at the plate to end the inning.
But it was a new ballgame and Mefford pitched around an error in the bottom of the fifth, fanning two. The runner was stranded at third.
Wood retired the first two Lady Hornets in the top of the sixth before Suarez unloaded to untie it, stunning the West players and their fans.