Photos courtesy of Jon Staton
VILONIA — By any standard, particularly for a team with so many young players playing vital roles, the Bryant Lady Hornets have been remarkably successful this season. They’ve been able, for the most part, to maintain focus and intensity through 13 wins in their first 14 games including all nine of their 7A/6A-Central Conference games. Their lone loss was a one-run game in extra innings against Cabot on March 28. Since then they’d won 10 in a row by a composite score of 71-9. Of those 10, all were league games except one, which was against an old rival, North Little Rock.
In fact, they’ve already clinched their spot in the Class 7A State Tournament, which will be played in Rogers May 15-16.
Even the best teams, however, hit a bump in the road once in a while. And better now than later.
In a non-conference game at Vilonia, the Lady Hornets were shut out over the last five innings and the Lady Eagles broke open a 4-3 game with four runs in fifth and four more in the sixth to post a 12-3 victory.
“I’ve been trying to have a theme, if you want to call it that, for each game,” said Lady Hornets head coach Debbie Clark. “We’ve used teamwork, standing toe-to-toe with each other. We’ve used momentum. (We used that at Russellville and, man, we saw it. It was great.) Tonight, I asked them, using an Eleanor Roosevelt quote, ‘What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?’ So I said, what would you do if you knew you couldn’t strike out, if you knew you couldn’t throw wild pitches — I listed several things. I just wanted pure abandonment of negative thoughts.”
Of course, bumps in the road are always learning experiences; things to work on that are not always as obvious when wins are piling up.
“I knew Vilonia was good,” said Clark. “Good coach, good pitching coach, great pitching. I felt like the first pitcher, we should’ve hit better. We did for an inning or two. I really don’t think we’ve been able to put seven complete innings together. We’ve been hit and miss here and there. And that hurt us.”
That first pitcher for Vilonia was Marlee Hines-Lee who, over the first two innings, gave up three runs on six hits to the Lady Hornets.
In the first, she caught a break when Bryant’s Abby Staton belted one to the fence in left-center that looked like she’d leg out for a triple but a good relay and a favorable close call at third prevented it.
In the bottom of the inning, the Lady Eagles scored three runs on four hits and a Bryant error. In uncharacteristic fashion, the Lady Hornets had five errors in the game, each one coming in a run-scoring frame for Vilonia.
But the Lady Hornets came right back to tie the game in the top of the second, answering the challenge. Cayla McDowell got the uprising started, lining a single up the middle. Julie Ward grounded into a force but hustled to beat the relay to first, avoiding the doubleplay. Mallory Theel followed with a chopper to short that was booted.
That set the table for Miranda Mayfield who swatted a single to the gap in left-center that chased Ward home. Daniele Singleton followed, slapping a slow dribbler down the third-base line that Vilonia’s Kristen Wade got to but had no play.
With the sacks packed, Shayla McKissock came through with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-2 then Regan Ryan swatted a single over the Wade’s head to tie the game.
Staton beat out an infield hit to load the bases again but Hines-Lee and the Lady Eagles got the third out to avoid further damage.
After Vilonia’s opening salvo, Bryant pitcher Raven Loveless and the defense settled in and retired eight in a row. The Lady Hornets put together a two-out threat in the fourth when McKissock walked and Ryan singled but, again, Hines-Lee worked out of the jam.
In the home fourth, a misplayed ball in the outfield resulted in Vilonia’s Cacy Simpson reaching third. Morgan Gray singled her home. Loveless struck out Skylar Lee then Natalie Hare hit a bloop to right. Maddie Stephens charged in and caught the ball on a hop and fired to second in time for a force out. Callie Eary grounded to Theel at short to end the inning.
In the top of the fifth, the Lady Hornets had a shot at an answering uprising when Loveless lined a single to center but, though they hit a pair of balls hard, the Lady Hornets were unable to capitalize.
Taking advantage of a pair of Bryant errors with five hits including a clutch two-out, two-run single by Lee, the Lady Eagles pushed the lead to 8-3 in the bottom of the fifth. Staton came on in relief of Lawless to end the inning with a strikeout.
In the sixth, Hines-Lee pitched around a one-out walk to Singleton.
Vilonia, in the home half, took advantage of two walks, a hit batsman and another error to score four more times.
The Lady Hornets return to conference play this Friday when they host the Mount St. Mary Belles.