FORT SMITH — Of their 24 — now 25 — consecutive 7A-Central Conference wins, none may have been a closer call than Tuesday night when it took the Bryant Lady Hornets nine innings before finally subduing the upstart Fort Smith Southside Lady Mavericks.
Sarah Evans belted a two-run double to snap a 5-5 tie in the top of the ninth then scored on a single by Raven Loveless. Then, in the home ninth, the Loveless and the Bryant defense held to Lady Mavs to just one run for a marathon 8-6 victory.
The Lady Hornets improved to 25-3 overall this season and 11-0 in league play on the heels of going 14-0 in the conference in 2017. They host Cabot on Thursday for Bryant Softball League Night in which all Bryant Softball League players wearing their jersey will receive free admission and, after the game, get to meet the Lady Hornets players, run the bases and tour the Lady Hornets press box and locker room.
Loveless went the distance in the circle and went 4 for 5 at the plate. Regan Ryan had three hits and Maddie Thompson added two.
For Southside, now 11-11 and 4-7, Madi Conklin had three hits and drove in three runs including an RBI single during the Lady Mavs’ three-run rally in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game and send it to extra innings.
In accordance with the international tiebreaker, each extra inning began with a runner on second base. Both teams escaped that scenario in the eighth but, in the ninth, Ryan beat out an infield hit as Regan Keesee held at second. Thompson sacrificed them to second and third to set up Evans’ clutch double. With two down, Loveless’ fourth hit made it 8-5.
With Callin Massey at second to start the bottom of the ninth, Hannah Hogue grounded to second, moving Massey to third. Conklin singled her home but then Loveless got Piper Morgan and Ella Kohler to pop out to Alissa Suarez at second to end the game.
Bryant led almost the entire game, starting with a four-run first when three errors produced the first three runs as Thompson, Evans and Meagan Chism reached base on the miscues and Chism circled the bases.
Loveless singled then both Brooklyn Trammell and Bella Herring were hit by pitches, but four was all Bryant could get.
Loveless hit the first two batters she faced in the bottom of the inning but retired the next three. She pitched around an error and another hit batsman in the second.
In the third, Southside managed a run when Hogue reached second on an error, took third on a groundout and scored on another bouncer to Suarez at second.
Bryant got that run back in the top of the fifth when Chism’s grounder to second was booted and, with two down, Trammell came through with an RBI double.
Massey singled, Hogue sacrificed, and Conklin doubled to make it 5-2 in the home fifth.
After the Lady Hornets got runners to second and third but couldn’t score in the top of the sixth, Southside was retired in order in the bottom half.
Loveless singled in the top of the seventh but Southside turned a doubleplay to set up its game-tying rally. Maliah Hunter singled, and Massey reached on an error. With one out, Conklin singled in a run then Morgan doubled to cut the lead to 5-4. Conklin scored the tying run when Kohler grounded out.
In the eighth, Samantha Still was put on second for the Lady Hornets. Suarez sacrificed her to third but Maddie Stephens popped out and Keesee grounded out to end the inning.
For Southside, Hailey Hogue was set up at second and held when Caitlyn Bagby bunted back to Loveless. With runners at first and second, Mackenzie Farrar bunted, Loveless fielded again and threw to Thompson at third for a force. Loveless got Hunter to tap back to the circle and, again, she got a force at third.
Though an error allowed Farrar to take third and Hunter to reach second, Massey tapped back to Loveless one more time and, with a throw to first, the inning was over.