In a wildly entertaining slugfest in 2017, the Bryant Lady Hornets outlasted the Sheridan Lady Jackets, winning on a walk-off homer by Sarah Evans. Bryant reached the Class 7A State semifinals while Sheridan rebounded to win the Class 6A State championship for the second time in a row.
Perhaps the roles will be reversed in the end this year.
Because Sheridan outslugged the Lady Hornets on Thursday, 11-7, pinning just the first in-state loss of the season on Bryant, now 19-2. (The only other setback was against a team in Tennessee at a tournament in Murfreesboro during spring break.)
Bryant returns to 7A-Central Conference play on Tuesday at Conway.
Unfortunately for the Lady Hornets, however, they suffered an even bigger loss Thursday when sophomore Gianni Hulett, a hard-throwing lefty pitcher who entered the game with a 9-1 record and an earned run average of 1.21 as well as a .383 hitter, went down with a severe knee injury that will probably bring an end to her season.
Hulett had started the game in the circle for the Lady Hornets and had blanked the hard-hitting Sheridan team on one hit over two innings. Bryant had built a 3-0 lead.
Hulett had reached on an error in the home second as Maddie Stephens scored to make it 2-0. Then, on an RBI double by Meagan Chism, was rounding third and was held up because of a strong throw to the plate. Her knee went out and she was unable to even crawl back to third as she was tagged out to end the inning.
It hit the Lady Hornets hard, perhaps no one more than senior Raven Loveless, who has shared pitching duties with Hulett over the last two seasons. The Lady Hornets broke down defensively too, committing six errors in the game. Only three of the Lady Jackets’ 11 runs were unearned.
In fact, surprisingly for two such quality teams, there were 11 errors between them in the game.
The Lady Jackets rallied to take the lead but, gamely, Bryant battled back and held a 7-6 lead going into the seventh inning only to have Sheridan score five runs in the top of the inning, capped by Kylee Williamson’s grand slam.
In the home seventh, the Lady Hornets threatened to make another comeback. Maddie Thompson led off with her third hit, a single to center. Maddie Stephens hit the ball hard, but her line drive was speared by shortstop Maggie Hicks. After a strikeout, Alissa Suarez worked a walk, coming back from down 0-2, bringing up Evans.
Even another dramatic home run would’ve been short of tying the game this time. But she singled to load the bases.
Thrown into the fire after Hulett’s injury, junior Hennessae Shavers came to the plate as the potential tying run, but Sheridan pitcher Kaitlyn Howard struck her out to end the game.
Along with Thompson’s three hits, Chism, Loveless and Stephens each had two knocks and Brooklyn Trammell belted a solo homer.
Sheridan had 10 hits with Howard not only getting the win in the relief but going 4 for 4 with two runs batted in. Sarah Moore and Carley Strawn had two hits apiece and Williamson drove in four.
After Hulett pitched around a one-out error in the top of the first, the Lady Hornets grabbed the early lead with a run in the home half on consecutive hits by Hulett, Chism and Loveless against Sheridan pitcher Kassi Martin.
A two-out single by Moore went for naught in Sheridan’s second. In turn, Stephens opened the bottom of the inning with a double. Suarez drew a one-out walk and Evans reached on an error to load the bases, bringing up Hulett, whose fly to center was misplayed. Chism’s double and the injury to Hulett followed.
Howard singled to open the third. Williamson walked and, with two down, Bailee Bibb’s grounder to first was got through allowing two unearned runs to score. A double by Strawn put the potential go-ahead runs in scoring position but Loveless got Nicole Tompkins to ground out to third to end the threat.
Trammell’s blast came with one down in the bottom of the third to make it 4-2.
In the fourth, however, Sheridan scored four runs to grab the lead. Howard had an RBI single, Savannah Sanford doubled in two then scored on a wild pitch to make it 6-4.
Bryant cut the lead with a run in the home fourth. Suarez walked but was forced at second on a grounder to short by Evans. Shavers bounced into a force for the second out but then Chism’s grounder was booted and Loveless drilled a single to left to chase in Shavers.
Loveless then pitched around a lead-off single by Strawn in the top of the fifth and the Lady Hornets surged into the lead.
Thompson beat out an infield hit, Stephens legged out a bunt single then so did Bella Herring to load the bases. Thompson scored on a passed ball and Stephens came in when Suarez grounded out to second to put the Lady Hornets up 7-6.
Evans made a bid to make it an even bigger inning with a lined shot to the right side but Martin, the first baseman, snagged it and fired to third to double up Herring to end the frame.
Sheridan loaded the bases with no one out in the top of the sixth but Loveless and the Lady Hornets worked out of the jam with their lead intact. A bouncer to Suarez at third resulted in a force at the plate then Bibb popped to Evans at short and Strawn struck out.
But, despite the momentum that created, the Lady Hornets were stymied by Howard and the game went to the seventh.
A pair of one-out errors opened the floodgates for Sheridan. Howard doubled in the tying run. Sanford hit a grounder fielded by Loveless and reached when she chose to hold the runner at third. Thus, the bases were loaded when Williamson came to the plate. After fouling off a pitch, she drilled her grand slam to right.