FAYETTEVILLE — Originally delayed from 12:30 to 3 p.m., the Bryant Lady Hornets finally got their first taste of Class 7A State tournament play at Asbell Park around 4 p.m., on Friday. That was because of heavy rains that had the fields nearly flooded and threatened to wash out the quarterfinals.
But when the field had been thoroughly worked over and made ready for play, the Lady Hornets dismissed the Rogers Heritage Lady War Eagles, 3-0, behind the combined two-hit shutout from Raven Loveless and Gianni Hulett.
The victory improved the Lady Hornets to 28-4 on the season and set up a date with an old rival, the North Little Rock Lady Charging Wildcats, who advanced by eking out a 3-2 win over Rogers. Bryant swept the regular-season series with North Little Rock, the defending Class 7A State runner-up, 6-2 and 6-3.
They are set to tangle once again Saturday at noon, with another Central team, Cabot taking on defending State champion Bentonville, the lone West team still playing, at 2:30.
The only hits for Rogers Heritage on Friday were singles by Alexa Enos, one in the first that Loveless pitched around. The other came with two down in the sixth and, again, Loveless pitched around it.
Heritage threatened in the second when a throwing error allowed Allyson Fultz to reach first. Sarah Pollock sacrificed her to second then courtesy runner Karli Ziem took third when Lauren James tapped back to Loveless.
Ziem was stranded there when Loveless struck out Mika Polumbo to end the inning.
The only base-runner allowed by Hulett came in the fourth when Kelsey Hamlin walked but catcher Meagan Chism picked her off first. Hulett, who struck out five in her three innings in the circle, fanned Lora Brown and got Fultz to pop to Madison Lyles at short.
To close out the game in the top of the seventh, Hulett struck out the side.
The Lady Hornets, meanwhile, had runners on base in all but the second inning. They had eight hits but stranded seven. Lyles and Chism each had two knocks.
As it turned out, Bryant would get all the runs their pitching combo would need in the first. Regan Ryan led off with a single to left. Hulett sacrificed her to second then Chism’s fly to center allowed Ryan to tag and take third. Sarah Evans followed with a single to right to make it 1-0.
The game went to the fourth still 1-0. In the bottom of the inning, Chism led off with a line drive that neither Pollock, the Heritage pitcher, nor Enos, the second sacker, could make a clean play on. Evans followed with a two-hopper to Polumbo at third. She looked to second but Chism was hustling into the bag as she turned. Polumbo adjusted and threw to first but it was too late to nab Evans.
Loveless swatted a single to right to make it 2-0, taking second on a late throw to the plate as Evans pulled into third. After Macey Jaramillo just got under a 3-2 pitch and skied to left, Lyles belted a 2-2 delivery to left for an RBI double, making it 3-0.
Lyles got caught in a rundown between second and third. As she was doing so, Loveless took a few steps toward home. The rundown switched to her but a premature throw to the plate allowed Loveless to get back to third and Lyles to second.
But the Lady Hornets stranded both of them as Pollock bore down and struck out the next two, sending the game to the fifth.
Loveless needed just three pitches to retire the Lady War Eagles in the top of the inning. In turn, Pollock pitched around a two-out infield hit by Chism and a walk to Evans.
Jaramillo walked and Lyles lashed a single to right to start the home sixth. But Jaramillo, trying to score on a wild pitch, was nabbed at the plate then Brooklyn Trammell’s sharp grounder to second started an inning-ending doubleplay.
Hulett then waded through the 4-5-6 batters in the Heritage lineup to end the game.