FARMINGTON — Bryant Lady Hornets head softball coach Debbie Clark will go a long way to find the[more] toughest competition to challenge her two-time defending State championship team. On Saturday, in fact, she went all the way to Farmington, just southwest of Fayetteville.
There, the Lady Hornets not only met up with the defending Class 4A State champion Lady Cardinals, they took on the Mansfield Lady Tigers, a quarterfinalist last year in Class 3A.
Even though a pair of starters, Kaley Coppock and McKenzie Rice, were taking the ACT test on Saturday morning, the Lady Hornets routed Mansfield and their star pitcher Amber Oxford, who has signed to play at Ouachita Baptist University next year. She last three innings in the Lady Hornets’ 14-2 victory.
With Coppock and Rice back in the lineup, Bryant defeated Farmington 7-2, improving to 24-0 on the season. The Lady Hornets have now won 27 straight dating back to last year’s 6-5 loss in their regular-season finale at Lake Hamilton. They return to 7A/6A-Central Conference play on Thursday at home against Little Rock Central.
Jenna Bruick, celebrating her 18th birthday had three hits in the five-inning win over Mansfield. Peyton Jenkins and Jessie Taylor each had two hits. Taylor, who slugged her eighth home run of the year and 13th double, drove in four runs and Jenkins three.
“We moved Kayla Sory to first base (from center field), Katy Stillman to center (from right), Jordan Williams started in right field, and Breanna Sanders at third base,” noted Clark of the line-up changes to compensate for the absence of her first baseman (Coppock) and third baseman (Rice).
“In the first three innings, Mansfield only had one runner on base — she singled,” said the coach. “In the fourth inning, they had one hit and we walked one and then made two errors. That is how their runs scored. They got two hits in the fifth.”
Clark was a casualty along the way.
“During the top of the fifth, a Mansfield batter drilled a foul ball into our dugout,” she recounted. “My assistant, Nathan Castaldi, tried to stop it with his foot and hand but it nailed me on the inside of my left ankle. I coached the next game at first base with an ice pace on my leg.”
Last season, Clark absorbed a shot off the left thigh just above the knee, which had her hobbled for a while.
The Lady Hornets started the offensive show in the first inning when Bruick singled, Jenkins reached on an error and, with one out, Sory drove in both runs with a base hit. An RBI single by Cassidy Wilson made it 3-0. Williams, who walked all three times she came to the plate, drew her first pass but the Lady Tigers got out of the mess at that point.
In the second, a one-out bunt single by Bruick got things revved up again. Jenkins singled to set the table for Taylor’s blast over the centerfield fence and into the playground beyond despite a 30-mile-per-hour headwind.
“She crushed it,” Clark declared, “just muscled it out.”
Up 6-0, the Lady Hornets started the third with Williams drawing another walk. Carly Yazza sacrificed her to second then singles by Stillman and Sanders brought her around. Bruick singled to get them home then scored when Taylor ripped a double to make it 10-0.
Wilson started the fourth with a hit and, after Williams walked and Yazza got another bunt down to move them up to second and third, Stillman plated Wilson with a sacrifice fly. Ashley Chaloner, hitting for Sanders, was hit by a pitch and, after Bruick drew a walk, Jenkins hit a long fly to center.
“It would have been out without the win,” Clark said. “And the win took it to left field and it ended up being fair by inches, unbelievably.”
It cleared the bases to make it 14-0.
In the pitcher’s circle, Jankins wound up allowing just four hits and two unearned runs in five frames. She walked just one and fanned five.
Against Farmington, she allowed four hits and two runs over seven innings with a walk and six strikeouts.
Sory paced the offense with three hits and Stillman had two.
The Lady Hornets took a 2-0 lead in the opening inning. Jenkins singled with one down and, with two away, Sory lined a hit to left to move courtesy runner Abby Staton to third. Sory took second on the throw in then both raced home when Wilson lashed a double to center.
It stayed that way until the fourth. Jenkins had retired the first six in a row then hit a batter and gave up a single in the bottom of the third. Even after a passed ball, she got out of the inning unscathed. With one out, a bouncer to Rice at third resulted in an out at the plate. The third out also came on a grounder to third that Rice fielded. She tagged the runner coming into third from second for the out.
In the fourth, however, another single and a hit batsman gave the Lady Cardinals a chance. Jenkins struck out the next batter but, Farmington used a pair of squeeze bunts to plate two runs and tie the game.
“Great push bunts between our defenders,” noted Clark. “This was really good for us. We had to work out of being ahead and then tied and then came back to win. This is why we play, to put the players in different game situations. I was really proud.
“Our bats struggled some in this game,” she mentioned. “The wind was worse and we were popping up. We adjusted, though, and had two great innings in the fifth and sixth. In fact, we gave Farmington a little taste of the squeeze. Jessie laid down a beautiful bunt for Rice to score.”
That came in the fifth after Stillman was hit by a pitch and Rice had singled to left. Bruick got a bunt down to sacrifice and beat it out for a hit to load the bases for Jenkins who delivered the tie-breaking run with a sacrifice fly. After Taylor got her squeeze bunt down and beat it for a hit, Sory singled in a run.
Wilson bunted courtesy runner Mercedes Dillard and Sory up to second and third and Coppock walked to load the bases but the Lady Hornets could get no more.
Until the sixth inning, that is, when a single by Stillman and a pair of errors produced two more to set the final score.
Jenkins pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the sixth then worked a 1-2-3 seventh to close it out.
“We were tired mentally and physically — our players are so involved in different activities at school — but they gave me their best, which is ‘Beast’ mode,” Clark said.