Lady Hornets turn back Lady Panthers’ challenge, maintain hold on first place

File photo by Rick Nation

CABOT — The Bryant Lady Hornets clinched at least a share of the 7A-Central Conference championship, a first-round bye in the Class 7A State Tournament and are a win away from earning the No. 1 seed in the tourney after a 4-1 win on the road over their closest competitor, the Cabot Lady Panthers Thursday night.

Coupled with a 3-1 win over the Lady Panthers at home on April 4, the Lady Hornets now have the tiebreaker with them. Their next opponent, North Little Rock, on Tuesday, May 2, is tied with Cabot at 10-2 in league play with an outside chance to catch the Lady Hornets. But Bryant would have to lose to the Lady Charging Wildcats and Conway in their regular-season finale on Friday, May 5, to be denied the top seed.

Cabot was hoping to forge a first-place tie with Bryant with a win Thursday night but couldn’t get a run across the plate until the bottom of the sixth. By then, the Lady Hornets had built a 4-0 lead.

“They seem to play very well under pressure,” said Lady Hornets coach Lisa Dreher of her team. “I hope that continued going into State.

“We were sound defensively,” she said. “We hit a lot right at them early but I felt like those would eventually find a hole. Our short game came up big. Macey Jaramillo had a well-placed, timely bunt that seemed to rattle them.”

Regan Ryan also had a bunt hit as one of her three knocks in the contest. Jaramillo, Raven Loveless and Maddie Stephens each had two hits with Loveless coming through with a clutch two-run single to highlight a three-run third that broke the ice.

She also combined with Gianni Hulett, in their usual every-two-innings rotation, to quiet the Cabot bats until the sixth. Hulett took her turn in the seventh and, after issuing a walk, got Anna Beth Duncan to ground out to Madison Lyles at short. With a runner at second, she then struck out Leah Gerald and Riley Walthall to end the game.

Over four innings, Loveless allowed four hits, walked one and fanned out. In three frames, Hulett allowed one hit, walked one and struck out three.

Despite singles by Meagan Chism and Sarah Evans with two out, the Lady Hornets were denied by Cabot in the first. In turn, the Lady Panthers were retired in order.

Lyles reached on a two-out error in the second and stole second but was stranded. Lauren McCluskey cracked a two-out double for Cabot in the bottom of the inning but Loveless got Rylie Hamilton to pop out to Jaramillo at third to keep it scoreless.

Ryan beat out a bunt single to start the key top of the third. She took second on a wild pitch and third on Hulett’s tap to the pitcher. Ryan scored when Chism’s grounder to short was booted by Hamilton.

Evans was struck by a delivery then Jaramillo got down that clutch bunt and beat it out for a single to load the bases for Loveless. She fouled off one two-strike pitch then lined a single to right to chase in Chism and Evans.

Hulett took the circle in the bottom of the inning and worked around a one-out single by Gerald. In turn, Ryan slapped a one-out single to left only to get doubled off first when Hulett hit a liner that was speared by shortstop Hannah Montgomery.

Cabot went quietly in the bottom of the fourth and so did the Lady Hornets despite a two-out single by Jaramillo.

Lady Panthers’ pitcher Lauren McCluskey led off the bottom of the fifth and singled to center as Loveless returned to circle. Hamilton sacrificed her to second but she got no further as Duncan bounced out to Lyles and Gerald tapped back to Loveless.

The Lady Hornets tacked on an insurance run in the top of the sixth. With two down, Stephens slapped a single to left. Ryan followed with a shot up the middle for a base hit, setting the table for Hulett, who delivered an RBI knock to make it 4-0.

Cabot’s sixth began with an infield single by Walthall. She advanced to second on a groundout and stayed there as Grace Neal lined to Ryan in right. But a walk to Montgomery kept the inning alive and, two pitches later, Aubrey Lee singled to right to drive in the run.

That’s all the Lady Panthers could muster, however, as McCluskey popped to Lyles at short to send it to the seventh.

Loveless managed her second hit with two down in the top of the seventh but was stranded, setting up Cabot’s last gasp.

The Lady Hornets are now 25-3 overall and 12-0 in conference play. The win was their 13th in a row.

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