By Rob Patrick
Photos by Kevin Nagle
The last first time — the seniors on the Bryant Lady Hornets softball team are taking note of these things. On Tuesday, they officially played their last first game of the season. It was also their last meeting with the rival Benton Lady Panthers.
And the last time to beat them.
In a game that may have featured the two best high school softball teams in the state, Bryant’s two-time State Tournament MVP, Peyton Jenkins slapped a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the seventh to lift the Lady Hornets to a 2-1 win over the Lady Panthers at Bishop Park.
The hit came just moments after she had handcuffed three Benton batters with the go-ahead run standing on second base in the top of the seventh, finishing off a two-hitter in which she struck out 11 without a walk.
Bryant managed seven hits in the game, three of them by Jenkins.
“Whatever it took,” said Lady Hornets head coach Debbie Clark, referring to Jenkins. “It was tied, they went ahead and we had to battle back and play through that. The first true game of the season and look at all the different situations that we played through.
“It was a great game,” she acknowledged. “Benton is well coached and their girls did a great job. There was great sportsmanship. Everything about the game was good. (Benton coach) Heidi (Cox) and I wanted that.”
Jenkins and Benton’s Lauren White dueled through three scoreless frames. Benton had just one baserunner, Taylor Atkinson, who doubled to left-center with two out in the second. She was stranded when Jenkins struck out Ashton Currey.
Bryant had baserunners in each of those first three innings — and six of the seven in the game. White worked around a two-out walk to Jessie Taylor and Jenkins’ first single, getting out of the jam by getting Kayla Sory to ground to third.
In the second, Kaley Coppock blooped a one-out single to right but when the next batter, Carly Yazza, couldn’t reach the pitch on which Clark had called for a hit-and-run, Coppock was thrown out.
With two down in the third, Katy Stillman worked a walk for the Lady Hornets and Taylor singled to center off the glove of Benton’s Bailey Levart who tried to make a diving stop from second base.
But that proved to be the only time the Lady Panthers retired Jenkins, on a grounder to Levart.
In the fourth, Jenkins was breezing through the inning, retiring Daphne Bono on a pop to McKenzie Rice at third then striking out Haley Durham. She had an 0-2 count on Jessice Hardig but then just clipped her elbow on an inside pitch. Levart followed with a grounder just inside the bag at third for a double and, with runners at second and third, a wild pitch allowed Hardig to score the game’s first run. Atkinson wound up taking a called third strike to end the inning.
White preserved the lead in the bottom of the fourth with the help of Drew Melton at short who speared a line drive with a backhand play in the hole, robbing Cassidy Wilson for a hit.
After Jenkins retired the side in the top of the fifth, Yazza opened the bottom of the inning with a single and Rice got down a two-strike sacrifice. Yazza held at second when Jenna Bruick’s slap to third was misplayed but White got out of the jam by striking out Stillman and getting Taylor to bounce to second.
So Benton took the 1-0 lead to the sixth. It looked like Stevi Berg had the third Benton hit with a liner to right that one-hopped to Stillman. But the Bryant sophomore who started in the State championship game as a freshman, came in on the ball, grabbed it and quickly threw to Coppock at first before Berg could get there for the out.
Bono followed with a shot that Rice reached up and snagged with a snow-cone catch for the second out. Durham struck out and the Lady Hornets, fired up by the defensive play, came to the plate and promptly tied it up.
Jenkins singled to start the inning and Coach Cox turned to Jessica Franklin to pitch in relief of White. A passed ball allowed Jenkins to take second then Sory sacrificed her to third for Wilson who smacked a single off the leg of Franklin for the RBI.
Though Wilson took second on a wild pitch, Franklin steadied and got Coppock and Yazza to pop out to keep it deadlocked.
The top of the seventh started with a pop to left by Hardig that was misplayed allowing her to reach second with nobody out. Jenkins, however, would not let her advance any closer to the plate as she struck out Levart on three pitches, got a 2-2 delivery past Atkinson then induced a foul pop off Currey’s bat the Jenkins ran down to end the inning.
Clark said she had a motivational talk she was going to give her team after they came off the field for the bottom of the seventh but never got to give it.
“They came in and those seniors took care of it,” she related.
Rice turned in a key at-bat to start the inning, working a walk. That made it possible for Taylor and, perhaps, Jenkins to get a chance in the inning. It became more certain that at least Taylor would bat after Bruick sacrificed her second.
Franklin made a bid to get out of the jam when she fanned pinch-hitter Ashley Chaloner. But that brought up Taylor, who has been in double digits in home runs each of the last two seasons. Franklin promptly issued an unintentional intentional walk on four pitches to bring Jenkins to the plate.
Franklin got the first pitch by her for a strike but then unleashed a wild pitch allowing Rice to take third and Taylor to take second, and opening up first base. While another unintentional intentional walk may have been the plan, Franklin got the next pitch too close and Jenkins slapped a hump-back liner to right for the game-winner.
“We wanted to play here for the communities and I thought it was great,” Clark noted, referring to Bishop Park. “We had a lot of people from both Bryant and Benton, little girls out here practicing that got to see.
“The field — it’s early and the field here is a little different,” she mentioned. “I told the girls, we’re hosting the State Tournament here, we’re going to play away games so we have to learn how to make that field, our field. So that’s what we’re doing here. And they worked hard.”
The Lady Hornets are scheduled to return to action on Thursday against Beebe, back at their usual home field.
Bryant 2, Benton 1