By Rob Patrick
When they take the field at the University of Arkansas’ Bogle Park on Saturday morning at[more] 10 (weather permitting), the Bryant Lady Hornets will be playing the North Little Rock Lady Cats for the first time.
That’s the approach that Bryant head coach Debbie Clark is taking.
“We’re not really going to play them again,” she emphasized, “because, in post season, this is the first time to play them. It’s all about perspective, how you look at it.”
Of course, in the regular season, the defending Class 7A State champion Lady Hornets and the Lady Cats played twice and North Little Rock won both times.
“There’s not going to be any surprises,” Clark said. “We know their team. They know us. We’ve been practicing, hopefully, to utilize maybe some of their weaknesses. We know what their strengths are. We know if we make the routine plays and have good quality at-bats then we’re right in the game.
“They are well coached and they’re very talented,” she added. “I think either of us, at any point, can win. Both games were one-run games and both times Peyton was struggling because she was ill. And she did great even though she was sick. She’s stronger than ever and I think they’re going to see a new team on Saturday. Not a new team but a different team, a more energized team. We’ve also changed our lineup a little bit for the State tournament and that has seemed to work really well for us.”
The primary lineup change has been the move of Kayla Sory to center from first base and the insertion of freshman Kaley Coppock at first. Coppock adds another bat to the Lady Hornets’ lineup. In the State opener against Springdale Har-Ber, she was 3-for-3 with three runs batted in.
“It’s not been an easy year,” Clark reflected. “We wanted the season to start because of the target on our back. We battled some illness. It’s just been a different year than it was last year, which is okay. That’s fine. But we had to overcome some obstacles, which I think has made us stronger.”
Even at the State tourney in Bentonville, it was different, Clark mentioned.
“We went up to State and we almost felt like the underdog,” she explained. “There was no respect for us as the returning State champions. I thought when we won the Tournament of Champions that we’d garnered a little bit of respect from some of the state. But we all felt it up there, that it was all about the ball teams from the West. But I honestly feel that the two best teams in 7A are in the championship.
“It’s going to be an awesome game if you’re sitting in the stands,” added the coach. “It’s really going to be stressful for (North Little Rock) Coach (Anthony) Cantrell and I.
“This is my third time in a row,” mentioned Clark, who won State at Wynne in 2009 before coming to Bryant for the 2010 season. “People keep telling me all the time, ‘Enjoy it, enjoy it.’ I emailed a coaching friend of mine and said, ‘How do I enjoy this?’
“Because I know how much the girls want it and how much I want it for them,” she explained. “(Assistant) Coach (Nathan) Castaldi and I talked to them about our hearts being full because they have touched our lives so much. So, I want them to win it because I know what disappointment’s feels like and I want to protect them from that.”
For those who haven’t been following the Lady Hornets this season, they are led by the same core of players that led them to the title last season when they were sophomores. Jenkins, who was the State tournament MVP last season, along with slugging catcher Jessie Taylor, the clutch-hitting Sory, speed-burner lead-off hitter Jenna Bruick and slick-fielding shortstop Cassidy Wilson are the primary returnees, along with Ashley Chaloner and Carly Yazza, both solid juniors as well, and freshmen Katy Stillman and Coppock.
The team brings in a 24-6 overall record this season.