RUSSELLVILLE — The Bryant Lady Hornets pulled into a first-place tie with the North Little Rock Lady Charging Wildcats on Thursday night. That’s because, while the Lady Hornets were forging a 4-1 win over the Russellville Lady Cyclones, the Cabot Lady Panthers were handing the Lady Cats their first conference loss.
Bryant and North Little Rock are now 10-1 atop the league with Cabot a game back at 9-2. Fourth-place Russellville fell to 5-6.The Lady Hornets host an improved Conway team on Tuesday, May 4, then play at Cabot on Thursday and at home against North Little Rock on Monday, May 10.
At Russellville, Bryant head coach Debbie Stepp saw more of what she wanted from her team. In the Lady Hornets’ previous game, a 5-3 win at Arkansas Baptist on Tuesday, she felt like her team didn’t play with the focus she wanted to see until the seventh inning when they wiped out a 3-2 deficit.
“I talked to the girls before the game that I wanted them to play every inning like we played the seventh inning on Tuesday,” she related. “And we did really well. I told the girls (after the game) that I felt the team unity felt better and looked better to me. Their faces looked better except the seventh inning. I could tell that they were really trying hard to focus mentally and play as a team. And that’s what we’re looking for. We’ve got three big conference games and another big game before the State tournament and that’s what we’ve got to have.”
The Lady Hornets took a 1-0 lead in their first at-bat. Cassidy Wilson singled up the middle and, with two down, Jesse Taylor walked. When Kayla Sory hit a tap that Russellville pitcher Andrea Dixon fielded, a wild throw to first allowed Wilson to score.
Shanika Johnson walked to load the bases but Dixon forced the Lady Hornets to leave the bases loaded with a strikout.
In the bottom of the inning, Kayla Sisco greeted Jenkins with a double. But, when Darian Simmons tried to sacrifice, Jenkins threw her out at first with second baseman Jenna Bruick covering. Sisco broke for third but Bruick fired a throw to Wilson, covering the bag from the shortstop position, in time to complete a rare 1-4-6 doubleplay.
Jenkins then struck out Megan Hale to end the inning.
A one-out double by Hannah Rice gave the Lady Hornets a chance to add to their lead in the top of the second. She held at second as Bruick beat out an infield hit on a slap towards short. Wilson followed with a bouncer to third that resulted in a force out but a relay to first was wild and runners wound up at second and third for Jenkins who drew a walk to load them up for Taylor.
A drive to center appeared to have Dixon and the Lady Cyclones out of the jam but the ball was dropped and two runs scored. And when Sory’s grounder to third was booted, Jenkins scored to make it 4-0.
In the bottom of the inning, Kelsey Sisco singled with one out and Laura Brown walked but then Jenkins started a streak in which she retired 13 of 14 batters. The only baserunner was Hale, who walked to open the fourth. But she was thrown out trying to steal second by Taylor.
Meanwhile, Simmons took over as the Russellville pitcher and quieted the Bryant bats. Kelsie Works beat out a single in the third and stole second but was stranded. In the fifth, Johnson singled but was thrown out trying to steal. In the sixth, Rice cracked a one-out single. Bruick sacrificed her to second but she too was left on.
Jenkins led off the seventh with a single, advancing to second on an errant throw, but she got no further.
Russellville’s seventh began with Hale getting hit by a pitch. She advanced to second on a passed ball and when Taylor tried to throw her out, the ball sailed, allowing her to reach third. As Hale held at third, Kelsey White beat out an infield single. Kelsey Sisco followed with an RBI single to make it 4-1. A passed ball allowed the runners to reach second and third with the tying run at the plate.
But Jenkins put the quietus on the Lady Cyclones by striking out the next two batters and getting the final out on a pop to Sory at first, stranding those baserunners.
“We had trouble adjusting to the second pitcher,” acknowledged Stepp. “I don’t know why. It was a mental thing. We hit the ball but we didn’t hit it where we needed to and we left some people on base. We played really great defense and Peyton did really well until that seventh inning then we made an error and they were able to score a run but we were able to get out of a tough spot.”