North Little Rock rallies for 7-5 win in first-place showdown with Lady Hornets

Peyton Jenkins grabs an infield pop in front of teammate Kayla Sory. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

NORTH LITTLE ROCK — When two teams that may be the best in the State and certainly are the best in the 7A-Central Conference get together for a first-place showdown, most would expect a tough, tight, high intensity, well-played game. But the rivalry between the Bryant Lady Hornets and the North Little Rock Lady Charging Wildcats is such that, while you’re sure to get tough, tight and high intensity, the two teams want to beat the other so badly, the intensity can get beyond that magic level and mistakes occur.

In their Thursday, April 15, meeting at Burns Park, both came in with unblemished conference marks. Overall, they’d lost just three games between them all season. And it was the first time they’d met since they played for the Class 7A State championship last spring.

“There were a couple of routine plays that we didn’t make,” acknowledged Lady Hornets coach Debbie Stepp, getting her first taste of the heated rivalry. “They didn’t either. It happened to them too. It was kind of a sloppy game and I think that comes because both teams wanted to win this so badly. There’s such a rivalry here.”

And, as it turned out, like that State final last May, North Little Rock prevailed. The Lady Wildcats did it by scoring three times in the bottom of the sixth without a hit, turning a 5-4 deficit into a 7-5 win.[more]

Shanika Johnson celebrates her two-run homer. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

North Little Rock improved to 20-2 overall and 7-0 in league play. Bryant fell to 15-2 and 7-1. 

“I’m pleased with 7-1 in the conference,” Stepp said. “That’s good. It was good game and it could’ve gone either way. Now they have to come to Bryant and we’ll try it again.

The two teams play again at Bryant on Monday, May 10. Of course, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think they might see each other a third time.

Bryant hosts Little Rock Central on Tuesday, April 20, then travels to play Mount St. Mary Academy on Thursday.

Against North Little Rock, the Lady Hornets led 5-4 going into the bottom of the sixth. Bryant pitcher Peyton Jenkins retired the first two including the lead-off batter on a nice sliding catch in center by Kelsie Works. But a two-out walk on a 3-2 pitch to Autumn Schweiger kept the inning alive. Back around to the top of the order, a walk to Tiffany Roby brought up Natalie Mosley who pulled an 0-2 delivery to third for what looked like it would be an inning-ending out. But a wild throw not only allowed Schweiger and Roby to score but Mosley wound up at third.

Moments later, she scored on a wild pitch during a 12-pitch battle between Jenkins and Molly Edwards to make it 7-5. Edwards grounded out to short to end the inning.

In the seventh, a one-out walk to Jessica Cudd and a wild pitch that allowed her to take second gave the Lady Hornets some hope but Callie Simmons retired the next two to preserve the win.

Bryant had jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning when, with one out, Cassidy Wilson was hit by a pitch. Jesse Taylor singled and when the return throw from the outfield was off, they moved up to second and third. With two down, Kayla Sory came through with a single to left that got past the outfielder allowing both runs to score.

Sory went to third then Shanika Johnson drew a walk but a strikeout ended the inning.

“I was really pleased that we jumped out and got the lead,” Stepp said. “That’s big for a visiting team. What I tried to tell the girls is, I wanted us to win each inning instead of trying to win seven. We won the first inning, tied the second but then it was back and forth and that inning thing wasn’t going to work anymore.

Kelsie Works charges in to make a catch in center field during Thursday's game at North Little Rock. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

“The good thing is, I think we hit better tonight than we have all week,” she noted. “We worked really hard before we left the school today. We did a workout, turned the machine on and really, really worked. Then we came over here and I told the girls that I really felt like they were physically, mentally prepared for the game. There were some uncontrollables that happened during the game but those are things that we have to learn to fight through.”

Jenkins worked around an error in the first and a two-out hit in the second.

The Lady Hornets threatened in the third when Taylor doubled with one out and Sory walked but both were stranded, two of the 10 Bryant left on.

In the bottom of the inning, the Lady Wildcats broke through with four runs to take the lead. Tiffany Roby beat out an infield hit and Natalie Mosley sacrificed her to second. With two down, Molly Edwards singled to left to drive in the run, taking second on the late throw to the plate.

Walks to Callie Simmons and Allie Seaton loaded the bases then Hannah Escovedo cleared them with a drive to right-center for a double.

Simmons came in to pitch in relief of Seaton in the top of the fourth and got a break when, with one out, Kelsie Works singled and Ashley Chaloner looped one that fell in front of Mosley in center. But Works, not sure if the ball would be caught, hesitated before taking off for second and wound up being forced out on a throw from Mosley to Molly Murdock covering second.

Jenna Bruick followed with an infield hit and when Wilson reached on an error, the bases were loaded with the heart of the Bryant batting order up. But Simmons ended the threat with a strikeout.

North Little Rock, in turn, went down 1-2-3 and the Lady Hornets picked back up offensively in the top of the fifth, tying the game on a dramatic two-run shot by Johnson. Sory, who had singled, scored on the homer but Simmons bounced back by striking out the next two batters to keep it even.

In the bottom of the fifth, a one-out walk and a single had Jenkins in some trouble but she got Seaton to ground to Johnson at third. She flipped to Wilson covering third for a force then Escovedo tapped out to Sory at first to end the threat.

Bryant took the lead in the top of the sixth when Chaloner singled, took second on a passed ball, third on a grounder to first by Bruick and scored on Wilson’s single to right-center.

With two out, Jenkins legged out an infield hit but the Lady Hornets could get no more, setting up the tell-tale home sixth.

Bryant finished with 10 hits in the game, two each by Taylor and Sory.

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