May 19 in Bryant athletic history: 2010

Senior Shanika Johnson (22) is greeted by her teammates after her sixth-inning home against Cabot Tuesday night. (Photo by Kevin Nagel)

Lady Hornets headed back to Fayetteville for another shot at State crown

EDITOR’S NOTE: In this time of COVID-19, with no sports action, will be posting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).

By Rob Patrick

CABOT — As has often been the case for the Lady Hornets this season:

It was only a matter of time.

Bryant fell behind 2-0 to the Cabot Lady Panthers in the first inning of Tuesday’s semifinal game at the Class 7A State Tournament. But there was no panic. It was nothing new.

Time after time this season, the Lady Hornets have scored big late to erase deficits, break open close games or turn a solid lead into a blowout.[more]

Peyton Jenkins points to head coach Debbie Stepp as she trots home following a sixth-inning homer. (Photo by Kevin Nagel)

“I could feel that they felt like, even though we were behind, that they could come back and win it,” acknowledged Lady Hornets head coach Debbie Stepp, who last year led Wynne to a State championship. “The girls kept their composure with one senior at third, a freshman in right field, a junior in center and the rest sophomores. And a new coach and a new assistant.”

Bryant tied it in the second then, sure enough, erupted for four in the fourth then five in the sixth to win going away, earning a return trip to Bogel Park at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, for the Class 7A State championship game.

For the first time, Bryant will be represented in both the softball State title game and the baseball State championship contest this weekend. The city of Bryant may just empty out and head to Fayetteville where the baseball team will play Van Buren at 7 p.m., this Friday at Baum Stadium, then the softball team will take on Bentonville on Saturday afternoon at 2.

It was the third time this season Bryant defeated Cabot, the third seed from the 7A-Central Conference, which the Lady Hornets won with a 13-1 mark. The first time the teams met, Bryant eked out a 1-0 win but late in the season, the Lady Hornets run-ruled the Lady Panthers 13-3.

As most coaches would say, it’s hard to beat a good team three times but it’s also difficult to beat a good team that you hadn’t been able to the two previous times too. You have to muster some confidence somehow.

And Cabot was tough early.

In fact, the Lady Panthers had runners on base in every inning. But Bryant pitcher Peyton Jenkins kept working out of trouble, keeping it to a minimum. She fanned seven, walked just one and scattered eight hits. Cabot stranded 10 and had another thrown out at the plate on a spectacular play by catcher Jessie Taylor in tandem with Jenkins.

“I don’t really take a different approach on things,” she said of pitching out of jams. “It’s just ‘Let’s just get them out.’ It’s the same approach.”

Jenkins, who has a vast array of pitches, added, “I didn’t throw my best game. My curveball wasn’t really working at all. I really had to manage with my change-up and my screwball. That’s pretty much what we stuck to.

Shortstop Cassidy Wilson made a diving catch of this liner to end Cabot's two-run first. (Photo by Kevin Nagel)

“In a game when you’re not feeling it, when some of your pitches aren’t working, you just have to manage,” she added. “And I managed what I could. Me and J.T. (Taylor) work very well together. I was throwing the junk and I wasn’t throwing it very hard.”

The Lady Hornets’ defense, which played flawlessly in Monday’s quarterfinal win over Fort Smith Southside, committed four errors in Tuesday’s game.

“But that’s to be expected,” Stepp stated. “You come into this big game, our baseball team had won, the baseball team came over and watched us play and we had big crowd. That had a lot to do with the emotion.

“I thought Peyton did a great job on the mound even though everything around her was not going the way a pitcher would like it to,” the coach continued. “She stepped up and did a great job.”

Jenkins helped herself at the plate too. She went 3 for 3 with a sacrifice fly and blasted her first home run of the season, a three-run bomb to break the game in the bottom of the sixth.

Junior Kelsie Works and freshman Hannah Rice had two hits each as the bottom of the Lady Hornets’ batting order instigated its first two run-scoring frames. Jessie Taylor had two hits and Shanika Johnson, the lone senior on the team, also had two hits including a two-run shot that capped the scoring in the game.

After pounding out 18 hits in their previous win over Cabot, the Lady Hornets had 13 this time.

The Lady Panthers took advantage of a little of that shaky defense in the first. Caitlinn Gunn singled to left and, with one out, Kristi Flesher bunted back to Jenkins, who whirled to throw to second. But here throw was in the dirt and shortstop Cassidy Wilson couldn’t dig it out cleanly.

Cabot clean-up hitter Brooke Taylor popped a one-hopper back to Jenkins that Johnson, at third, initially made a move towards fielding. Jenkins looked to make a throw to third for a force but no one was there to take it, so she calmly turned and fired to first in time for the second out.

Shanika Johnson backhands a foul grounder outside of third base. (Photo by Kevin Nagel)

And she appeared to be out of the jam when she got Tara Boyd to pop into shallow left, down the line. Bryant left-fielder Ashley Chaloner had to come in a long way but she got there. She tried to make a basket catch on the run and the ball popped out. With two down, both base-runners were on the move at the crack of the bat so both were able to score.

With a runner on first, Pete Reed pulled a liner that appeared to be headed between short and third for a single to left. But Wilson made a headlong dive and hauled it in to end the inning in spectacular fashion.

Cabot pitcher Kendall Calderon worked around a two-out single to Jenkins in the bottom of the first then Jenkins overcame a lead-off single to Taylor Anderson and a wild pitch in the top of the second, fanning two.

In the home second, Kayla Sory opened with a drive that looked to be headed to the fence especially when Cabot right-fielder Jenny Evans nearly did a 360 before reaching up and hauling it in.

Johnson, however, got the offense going when she pulled a double inside the third-base bag. After Chaloner’s ground to short was misplayed, Works beat out an infield single to drive in Johnson.

Rice’s first hit followed, loading the bases for Jenna Bruick. Her grounder to the right side allowed Chaloner to score, tying the game.

Jenkins continued to work out of trouble. In the third, Chelsea Conrade drew the lone walk and, an out later, Brooke Taylor singled. But Jenkins got Boyd to fly to Chaloner in left and got Reed to bounce to Bruick at second to wriggle off the hook.

In the fourth, the Lady Panthers loaded the bases with two out. Evans singled up the middle then Sarah Martin reached on an error. But Jenkins fanned Gunn and, after Conrade beat out an infield hit to load the bases, Flesher struck out to leave the bases full.

The Lady Hornets responded to the narrow escape by taking the lead in the bottom of the fourth.

This time, Works ignited things with a liner over the second baseman’s head for a one-out single.

“I just sat down and got focused,” Works said of her preparation for the game. “What was going through my mind was just ‘Hit, hit, hit.’ (Calderon) throws low and in, so that was what I was looking for and I just drived the ball.”

Bryant tandem Peyton Jenkins, left, and Jessie Taylor. (PHoto by Kevin Nagel)

Rice followed with her second single which got away from the left fielder allowing the runners to move to second and third. Bruick followed with a tap to the pitcher who threw to third to keep Works from scoring as Bruick reached.

Wilson followed with a grounder down the line to third. Boyd fielded the ball right on the line and threw home only to hit Works, allowing her to score the go-ahead run.

Jenkins made it 4-2 with her sacrifice fly to right. All three baserunners moved up on the play so they were in position at second and third for Jessie Taylor to slice a rocket into right-center to chase them home.

Cabot threatened in the top of the fifth. Brooke Taylor was nicked by a 2-2 pitch then advanced on a groundout by Boyd. An infield hit by Anderson put runners at the corners with Evans at the plate. Jenkins’ 2-1 pitch was in the dirt and popped away from Jessie Taylor. The Bryant catcher scrambled to get to the ball quickly as Brooke Taylor sprinted home. Jessie Taylor made a back-hand flip right on target to Jenkins, rushing in to cover the plate. Jenkins applied the tag on Brooke Taylor in time to end the threat.

Calderon pitched the only 1-2-3 half-inning of the game in the bottom of the fifth then her teammates took advantage of an error that allowed Evans to reach safely. Martin followed with a rocket off Johnson’s glove at third for a single.

That brought up Gunn, the Lady Panthers’ lead-off hitter. She cracked a two-hopper that Jenkins knocked down. She scrambled after the ball and got there in time to make a strong throw from her knees for the out at first.

Evans scored as Conrade tapped to Sory at first for the second out. Jenkins then ended the threat with her seventh strikeout.

That set the stage for Bryant’s blow-out sixth. With one out, Bruick beat out an infield hit and Wilson ripped a base hit to left. On the very next pitch, Jenkins unloaded to left-center. When she rounded third, she pointed to her coach.

“We did a little visualization thing today and I told her she was going to hit a home run,” Stepp explained. “That’s why she looked at me and said, ‘You called it, coach, you called it.’”“I haven’t been hitting that well,” Jenkins said. “The hitting finally came around and it felt really good.”

Jessie Taylor followed with her second hit and, with two down, Johnson connected on her two-run blast.

A bad-hop single by Brooke Taylor to lead off the seventh proved to be the Lady Panthers’ last hurrah. Jenkins retired the final three on grounders to start the post-game celebration.

1 comment

  1. Everette Hatcher

    Way to go girls. If Bauxite wins today then 4 teams from Saline County will be going to Fayetteville. Of course, the Bryant girls have been to Fayetteville many times before and probably will be back many times in the future. Bring home the state championship!!!!

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