VAN BUREN — On Thursday, March 29, after his Van Buren Lady Pointers suffered a 17-0 loss to the Bryant Lady[more] Hornets, Van Buren softball coach Andy Williams was talking to sportswriter Walter Woodie, covering for the Southwest Times Record of Fort Smith.
Asked about the two-time defending Class 7A State champion Lady Hornets, Williams was unequivocal.
“They are the best team in the state at any level,” he stated. “You can put a (high school ) all-star team together with the best people in this state and practice them for a week and you’re still not going to beat them.
“You can tell how much they’ve grown up,” the coach added. “They’ve matured a lot. They go out and play, go to the dugout, do their job until they’re done. It’s total business. The biggest thing they’ve got to do is stay focused one day at a time. If they do that, they won’t have any trouble.”
The next day, the Lady Hornets started Van Buren’s ninth annual River City Rumble and proceeded to add more evidence to Williams’ testimony.
With a number of future and past opponents on hand to witness it, Bryant won four games on Saturday at Field of Dreams Athletic Complex, including a 5-1 win over the Vilonia Lady Eagles in the title game in a rematch of the final in the White pool. Bryant reached the championship contest with a 12-0 thumping of the Russellville Lady Cyclones, winners of the Green pool, in the semifinals. To open bracket play Saturday afternoon, the Lady Hornets drubbed Fort Smith Southside, 11-2.
"We had a good tournament," said Lady Hornets coach Debbie Clark. "Winning is always good. We saw many different speeds of pitchers and were forced to make adjustments at the plate. We really emphasized laser-beam focus this weekend. The players must learn to relax mentally in between pitches and yet, on the pitch, be able to expect the ball to be hit to them. Softball is hurry up and wait.
Bryant head coach Debbie Clark brought her team to Van Buren to see teams from the 7A-West including Southside — teams the Lady Hornets figure to run into at this year’s State tourney, which will be held in Bryant the week of May 11, (with the championship, as usual, at Bogle Park at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville May 18 or 19.)
Along with Southside, West teams Rogers, Fayetteville, Springdale Har-Ber and Bentonville competed in the tourney but the Lady Rebels are the only one the Lady Hornets actually faced.
"We went to this tournament to see teams that we don't play on a regular basis, especially the West schools," Clark acknowledged. "We arrived at the tournament on Friday for the 3:30 games and softball class. We divided the players into four groups and provided them with scouting reports. They had to watch their assigned game and complete their assignment. We were able to scout Russellville, Rogers, Har-Ber and Bentonville. The players not only need to be able to 'play' the game, they need to be students of the game.
"We went to win and we did," she added, "and matured along the way. We have to stay in 'Beast mode' and compete against ourselves and take care of business."
Bryant 5, Vilonia 1
After blasting five home runs (by five different players) in two wins on Friday, Bryant’s ‘Beasts’ (as Clark likes to call them) had belted just one in the first three games on Saturday (still burying Southside and Russellville) but, in the final, Jessie Taylor and Katy Stillman accounted for three of the runs with big flies.
Taylor’s long shot — her third of the tournament — came with two out in the top of the first. Stillman’s two-run blast in the top of the fourth capped the scoring.
(Games were time-limited so the final only went four innings.)
The Lady Hornets turned a doubleplay in the bottom of the inning to keep it 1-0.
In the second, Kaley Coppock singled to right, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Carly Yazza, stole third and scored when Stillman reached on an error.
Vilonia loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning but couldn’t get anyone home as Bryant pitcher Peyton Jenkins ended the threat with a strikeout.
It stayed 2-0 until the fourth when Cassidy Wilson reached second on an error then raced home on a double by Coppock. An out later, Stillman tied into an 0-2 pitch for a blast over the fence in center to make it 5-0.
Vilonia, playing its third game against Bryant this season, finally scored in the bottom of the fourth after being shutout the previous two games and up to that point in the Rumble final. But, even on the play in which the Lady Eagles scored, the Lady Hornets made a play on a relay to cut down the batter as she tried to advance to second as a lead runner scored from second. That ended the game.
"Vilonia played a great game against us and helped us become a better team," Clark commented. "My niece is their assistant coach and pitching coach. She called a great game. She knew our hitting strengths and weaknesses. Her pitcher did not overpower us but she pitched smart against us and hit her spots. She said that just losing 1-0 (Saturday morning) to us was a mental victory for them and she really hopes she can get her team to understand how 'big' they played and how 'big' that game was for them. I am a proud aunt. Vilonia is blessed to have her on their staff."
Jenna Bruick, who had nine hits altogether in the last three games, had three in the final game for the Lady Hornets who are scheduled to turn around and play at Sylvan Hills on Monday before returning to 7A/6A-Central Conference play at home against Russellville on Tuesday.
Bryant 12, Russellville 0
The Lady Cyclones got no hits against Jenkins in three perfect innings of the run-rule win for Bryant in the semifinal game. Four of the nine outs came on strikes. There were two infield pops and three outfield flies.
The Lady Hornets erupted for 12 runs in the bottom of the second to set up the quick finish.
Once again, Bruick went 3 for 3. Jenkins, Kayla Sory, Yazza, Stillman and McKenzie Rice each had two hits.
A one-out singles by Yazza and Stillman started the second-inning carousel. Rice doubled them both home then scored on Bruick’s two-bagger down the left-field line. Jenkins made it three doubles in a row and 4-0. Abby Staton, running for Jenkins, took third on Taylor’s tap back to the mound then scored on a single by Sory.
Wilson kept the line moving with a base hit bringing Coppock back around. She, Yazza, Stillman and Rice proceeded to smack consecutive RBI doubles. Bruick singled in Rice, Jenkins singled and, when Taylor reached on an error, Bruick scored to make it 12-0.
Jenkins closed it out with two strikeouts and a fly to Sory in center in the top of the third.
Bryant 11, Fort Smith Southside 2
The Lady Hornets scored in each of the four innings and Jenkins blanked the Lady Rebels on one hit through three innings before giving way to freshman Jordan Williams in the fourth.
Bruick’s first single started the game. Jenkins followed with a base hit then Taylor doubled to drive in the first run. Ashley Chaloner, running for Jenkins, scored on a single by Sory. Kayla Jolley, running for Taylor, worked a double steal with Sory and Coppock took advantage with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0. Yazza cracked a double and it was 4-0.
Jenkins gave up a lead-off single in the bottom of the inning but then retired nine in a row.
Bruick singled and scored in the second after Jenkins doubled and Taylor grounded into a fielder’s choice.
After Jenkins struck out two in a quick bottom of the second, the onslaught continued for Bryant. Coppock reached on an error, Yazza sacrificed her to second and Stillman bounced a single up the middle to drive in a run. Rice followed with a shot to right for an RBI triple. She scored when Bruick reached on an error, making it 9-0.
Three more scored in the fourth when Coppock reached on a two-out error, Yazza doubled, Stillman tripled and Rice singled.
Southside managed its two runs in the bottom of the fourth cobbling together a pair of hits and a pair of walks before Williams ended it with her second strikeout of the inning.
Bryant 1, Vilonia 0
Early in the day, Jenkins tossed a five-inning no-hitter at Vilonia, walking two and striking out eight.
The lone run was a solo shot off the scoreboard by Taylor in the bottom of the fourth inning. Otherwise, the Lady Hornets were limited to singles by Coppock in the second and Yazza in the fifth.