Lady Hornets make championship game with another 1-0 squeaker
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continue posting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By Rob Patrick
NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Bunting with two strikes is a risky move. You bunt it foul and you’re out. But when a team is engaged in a pitcher’s duel, sometimes risks have to be taken to break things up a bit.
Bryant’s Hannah Rice had popped up a bunt earlier in her sixth-inning plate appearance. With the Lady Hornets engaged in a scoreless battle with the Foreman Lady Gators, head coach Debbie Clark was trying to get the lead runner on. Foreman pitcher Kimmy Beasley nearly caught Rice’s pop with a lunge at the first-base line. She couldn’t hang on but the ball was ruled foul, a close call.
The count ran to 1-2 and Clark had Rice bunting again and this time she placed it perfectly between Beasley and first base. Despite another valiant try by the Lady Gators’ pitcher, Rice beat it out for a hit.
With Jenna Bruick at the plate looking to sacrifice, a pitch got away from catcher Emily Halter and Rice moved to second. Bruick’s subsequent bunt got the job done and, with her speed, she just barely missed beating it out for a hit too. Beasley made the play but Rice was at third with Cassidy Wilson coming up.
And, on Beasley’s next delivery, Clark put on the squeeze play and Wilson delivered with a bunt up the first-base line that got Rice home.
That proved to be the game’s lone run as the Lady Hornets advanced to the championship game of the Lady Charging Wildcats’ Tournament of Champions at Burns Park. They’ll play tonight at 8:45 against Mountain Home, which won the Class 6A State crown last year, in the championship game. Bryant, of course, captured the 7A title a year ago.
“My philosophy is if they can bunt on strike one and strike two, they can bunt on strike three,” Clark stated. “It’s something I’ve never been afraid to do. I’ve seen too many times, coaches will take that off after two strikes. Why? If we’re striking out, if we’re not putting the ball in play . . . “
And the Lady Hornets were striking out a lot. Beasley, a hard-throwing lefty already signed to play for the Arkansas Razorbacks next year, struck out 12 in the game for the defending Class 2A State champions.
In fact, it was the second game in a row that the Lady Hornets had faced one of the best pitchers in the state and beat them, 1-0.
Of course, it helps to have one of the best pitchers in the state yourself.
After shutting out defending Class 5A champion Greenbrier on three hits Friday, Bryant’s Peyton Jenkins blanked the Lady Gators on one hit this morning. She struck out 10, walked one and hit three but retired the last 13 batters she faced.
“We’ve had two great pitching duels,” Clark noted. “This is the Tournament of Champions. This is why we come here to play. I hate it for programs that maybe are not the caliber that their coach would like them to be but I have to find opponents that will make us better as a team. And this is what’s going to make us better.
“Greenbrier has a great pitcher and a great team, champions that had beat us,” she reiterated. “There’s some history there. This team (Foreman), never seen them, watched them play a little bit last night. But there’s a reputation there. They did a good job.”
Beasley held Bryant to just three hits and walked only one. They got just one hit — Jessie Taylor’s fourth-inning homer — against Greenbrier’s Cecily New on Friday.
“I knew our girls were going to struggle at the plate,” Clark said. “In a game where three out of 10 is good, it’s hard for these girls to understand, ‘I’m not hitting every time.’ Sometimes the pitcher wins that battle. Our pitcher does. That’s why I felt like I had to go to the short game to just try to put the ball in play.
“I have a special signal with Hannah,” she mentioned. “On that signal, she knows it’s not the same way that we sac-bunt, it’s trying to bunt for a hit. And she did. The passed ball was like luck right there. But if we didn’t have anybody on base, that passed ball wouldn’t have meant anything. Hannah gets there, then Jenna gets her to third and I knew Cassidy could do something for me. And I already talked to them about it before the game. I said, ‘Get ready for me to call the squeeze.’ Fast runner, great bunter and the combination was perfect. How many times on a squeeze is the ball right in front of the catcher or pitcher? And hers was down the first-base line. She took the outside pitch — we’ve worked on that, where they take a step and bunt the outside pitch down the line.”
Bruick singled off the third-baseman’s glove to start the game but then Beasley and her teammates retired 10 in a row. Taylor walked then five more went down in succession before Rice’s bunt hit.
Bryant’s third hit was lead-off double to the fence in right-center by Jenkins in the seventh but Beasley struck out the next two and got a pop to first to keep it 1-0.
Jenkins’ biggest pickle was in the second when Jasmine Hardwick singled cleanly to left for the lone Foreman hit. She took second on a passed ball then third on a grounder to short by Kelsey Ross.
Jenkins came back to strike out Nikki Neal before hitting the next two batters, Miranda Hardwick and Tiffany Wheeler. With the bags full, she got JaMonica Shoals to pop out to Kayla Sory at first to escape with the game still scoreless.
“I’m really proud of Peyton today,” Clark said. “She hit more batters today than she needs to. I don’t mind her hitting a batter a game. It keeps them honest. A lot of coaches — I don’t know if this one did — coach their players to move a little closer to the plate because most high school girls throw outside. It’s so they can reach that outside pitch. What happens sometimes is it takes away the inside corner. And sometimes they get into the strike zone. You’re not supposed to do that. I mean, you can’t get your cake and eat it too as a hitter. I talked to the umpire. He’s really, really nice. And there were a couple of times at the end that he was really looking for it. And I think he made some really good calls. But it was one of those, we knew something was wrong because she never hits anybody. Not more than one. Sure not three in two innings.
“So, I thought Peyton did a really good job adjusting,” she added. “Jessie called a good game and our defense did great, particularly Kenzie Rice at third.”
In the third inning, Amy Halter became the third Foreman batter to be hit by a pitch and Jasmine Hardwick drew a two-out walk but Jenkins struck out Ross to end the inning.
Foreman was unable to get another batter on base after that thanks in part to a fine defensive play in the bottom of the sixth. Beasley led off with a sharp two-hopper towards third that McKenzie Rice niftily short-hopped. Her throw to first was low but Sory scooped it up for the out.
Rice had made another fine play for a force at second in the third. She came on strong in the seventh to field a one-out bunt and get the out at first. In addition, Bruick made a nice play to spear a sinking liner to second for the final out of the fifth.