By Rob Patrick
FAYETTEVILLE — North Little Rock pitcher Jessica Sheldon returned to the form that made her the MVP of the 2008 Class 7A State Tournament, limiting the Bryant Lady Hornets to just one run on four hits on Saturday, May 9, at the University of Arkansas' Bogle Park. The Lady Charging Wildcats took advantage of five Bryant errors with 10 hits for a 7-1 win to repeat as champions.
The Lady Hornets had captured the 7A-Central Conference championship by sweeping North Little Rock during the regular season including a 6-4 win at North Little Rock with Sheldon pitching. In both of those games, the Lady Hornets trailed early and rallied for victory so it wasn't too distressing that, this time too, they fell behind 3-0 over the first three innings as Sheldon retired the first 10 batters she faced.[more]
Bryant senior Christen Kirchner finally got the first hit with a two-strike bunt that she punched past Sheldon with one out in the fourth. Cassidy Wilson followed with a single to left but Sheldon bore down and retired the next two batters to preserve the shutout.
Peyton Jenkings, who had relieved Kirchner in the pitcher's circle in the third, worked around a single and a walk in the top of the fifth but the sixth proved to be the back-breaker. North Little Rock's Allie Seaton reached on an error, took second on a sacrifice by Hannah Escovedo and third on an illegal pitch before Jenkins struck out Olivia Bozart.
The Lady Hornets came within a strike of getting through the inning with no change in the score but, on a 1-2 pitch, Molly Murdock reached on an error as Seaton scored.
Murdock stole second and lead-off batter Tiffany Robey worked the count to 3-2. Another illegal pitch was called as Robey was hit with the next pitch. It was ruled that the batter being hit by the pitch supereded the illegal pitch so Murdock, who had moved to third on the play, was sent back to second. But that proved to be a mute point when, a strike away from an inning-ending strikeout again, North Little Rock's Maddie Mosely hit a liner to left center that went for a two-run triple and a 6-0 lead.
Running out of outs, the Lady Hornets came up in the bottom of the sixth and, with one out, Jenna Bruick, the team's lead-off hitter who has ignited plenty of big innings this season, slapped a hard grounder just inside the third-base line. She tried to leg out a double in the hit but the Lady Cats' left fielder was well positioned. She got to the ball and fired to second in time to nail Bruick.
So the game went to the seventh and North Little Rock added to the lead with Escovedo following a double Sheldon with a two-out RBI single.
It was the fourth two-out RBI hit in the game for the Lady Cats.
Trailing 7-0, the Lady Hornets made a bid at a comeback in the home seventh. Wilson cracked her second hit of the game, Jessie Taylor added a hit that shot off Sheldon's glove to Escovedo at second too late for her to throw for the out at first. Jenkins worked for a walk to load the bases with no one out. Kayla Sory followed with a grounder in the hole at short. Robey fielded it and, making the only play she had, throwing to third to force out Taylor as Wilson scored.
Moments later, however, Kim Wilson hit a fly to center. The ball was hauled in and Jenkins was thrown out, on appeal, at second for leaving the bag too soon, ending the game in frustrating fashion.
North Little Rock had taken the lead initially on a lead-off double by Robey and a two-out bouncer up the middle by Callie Simmons. Sheldon came up next but was retired on a diving catch of a foul pop by the Lady Hornets' senior catcher Sarah Hart.
Kirchner worked a 1-2-3 second but, in the third, Murdock beat out a bunt single and was sacrificed to second by Robey. Mosely singled to send Murdock to third.
On that play, Cassidy Wilson from short and Kim Wilson from second both dived to knock the ball down. Cassidy Wilson got to it, holding Murdock at third. But, when she threw the ball back to Kirchner, the pitcher hurt a finger on her pitching hand making the catch as Mosely advanced to second. Gamely, Kirchner continued to pitch. But the next pitch was wild allowing Murdock to score.
Molly Edwards lined out to short and Kirchner got two strikes in on Simmons. A 1-2 pitch was fouled off before Simmons looped a single to left to make it 3-0.
Jenkins came in to relieve and retired Sheldon. In the fourth, Seaton singled and Escovedo reached on an error. But the Lady Hornets got a lift when Bozart popped up a bunt that Hart grabbed and, after Murdock struck out, Hart threw behind Escovedo, catching her off the bag. Seaton broke toward third and the Lady Hornets executed a rundown perfectly to retire her at third to end the inning.
They were unable, however, to build on that in the bottom of the inning despite the hits by Kirchner and Wilson. Sory was at the plate with two out and, on a pair of borderline calls that were disputed by Bryant head coach Lisa Stanfield, was called out on strikes.