Photos by Rick Nation and Kevin Nagle
By Rob Patrick
And so they wait.
The young Bryant Lady Hornets softball team, which appears to be hitting its stride just as the[more] post-season looms, did their part Friday night with an exciting, come-from-behind 10-6 win over the El Dorado Lady Wildcats in the regular-season finale for both teams.
It was Bryant’s third win in its last four games with the lone loss a heartbreaking 1-0 setback at Lake Hamilton. They finish play in the 7A/6A-South Conference 8-6 with a 13-13 overall mark.
They’ve been scrambling to earn a berth to the Class 7A State Tournament, vying with teams from the West Conference that they don’t even play, because of the convoluted mix of 7A and 6A teams in conferences around the state. Bryant entered Friday night, needing a win and some help from a couple of teams in the West. They didn’t get it from Bentonville, which was upset by Van Buren. The Lady Pointers secured the fifth seed with that victory.
The other game affecting the Lady Hornets’ chances pitted Rogers against crosstown rival Heritage. It was a game that was snowed out on Thursday, May 2. It is now set to be played on Monday. Bryant needs Rogers to win to get in.
The sixth inning continued to be good to the Lady Hornets on Friday. A day after pushing across the decisive run in the sixth at Cabot, they erupted for four in the bottom of the sixth against El Dorado, snapping a 6-6 tie.
Actually, the Lady Hornets trailed 6-5 going into the bottom of the fifth but managed to tie it. Behind the pitching of Kayla Jolley, in relief of starter Jordan Williams, Bryant held the Lady Wildcats scoreless in the sixth and the seventh to close out the win.
“We’ve really been trying to play inning-by-inning,” stated Lady Hornets coach Debbie Clark, adding of her players. “And they’ve done real well. This has not been an easy last few weeks for them but they worked hard. There’s been so much improvement with this team.”
Bryant got a big lift from junior Brianna Forsyth. With lone senior Carly Yazza out of town for a family wedding, Forsyth was plugged into left field and came through with four runs batted in with two hits including a two-run homer.
Freshman Sierra Jones and junior Katy Stillman each had three hits with Jones getting a single, a double and a triple. Junior Breanna Sanders added two with sophomore Sydney Gogus, Jolley, and freshman Julie Ward pitching in with a hit apiece.
Jones’ double led to the tying run in the fifth. It came with two out and was followed by a single from Stillman that sent her to third. The Lady Hornets worked a play with Stillman breaking from first, drawing a throw and staying in a rundown long enough for Jones to race home.
“We ran the bases aggressively,” Clark noted. “We’ve been working on that in practice. Teams just forget about the runner at third. We did that twice and scored both times. We put pressure on them and they panicked.”
The game-breaking home sixth commenced with a lead-off walk to Gogus. Mercedes Dillard, running for the catcher, was forced at second on a grounder to short by Kaley Coppock. A pass ball allowed Coppock to take second as Jolley drew a free pass.
With Abby Staton in to run for the pitcher, Ward singled to center to load the bases for Shayla McKissock. On a 1-2 delivery, McKissock came through with a sacrifice fly to center, brining home Coppock with the tie-snapping tally.
Showing that aggressiveness on the bases, Staton and Ward tagged and advanced as well, setting the stage for Forsyth’s two-run single to center, which made it 9-6. And when Jones’ fly to right was misplayed, Forsyth came all the way around to score, capping off the uprising.
“I told them if we win this inning and we hold them then it’s over. That’s when we scored the four runs,” Clark recounted. “Sierra Jones had a great night.”
The Lady Hornets had taken the lead initially with a run in the home first. Stillman doubled, Sanders reached on an error and Gogus doubled in the run.
In the home second, Ward was hit by a pitch and, with one out, Forsyth unloaded on a 1-2 pitch for a lined shot over the center field fence to make it 3-0.
Williams was cruising at that point. She retired nine of the first 10 batters she faced with the lone base-running coming on a hit-by-pitch with two down in the second.
El Dorado’s bats came to life in the top of the fourth. Three straight singles with a double steal in the mix, produced two runs.
Bryant got those runs back in the bottom of the inning, however. Jones led off with her triple. She scored on a single by Stillman. Sanders cracked a base hit up the middle and, with two down, Sanders left early, got into a pickle, and Stillman scampered home to make it 5-2.
A four-run fifth, highlighted by a two-run homer, gave the Lady Wildcats their first lead of the game. When Williams issued her second walk of the inning, Clark turned to Jolley to relieve.
“She’d done well up to that point,” the coach said of Williams, “but she walked a couple. They hit groundballs to the infield but they bounced so high they went over our heads and there was nothing we could do about it.
“I brought Kayla in,” she continued. “She’s done whatever I’ve asked her to do. She’ll start and pitch, she’ll start in right field, she’ll come in and pitch. She’s done really well for us. I’m really proud of her.”
And now they wait, hoping for at least one more game.