Getting the third out was a toil for the Bryant Lady Hornets on Thursday night. So much so that, despite some clutch heroics at the plate, they suffered their first 7A-Central Conference loss of the season. Cabot Lady Panthers’ clean-up hitter Aubrey Lee slugged a three-run homer with two away in the top of the eighth inning to lift her team to a 9-6 victory.
It was the first conference setback for the league-leading Lady Hornets since the end of the 2016 season, a streak of 25 games. Bryant fell to 25-4 overall this season and, at 11-1 now, they still are a game ahead of Cabot (10-2) in the Central standings going into the final week of the regular season.
After a non-conference game against Bentonville West on Monday at UCA, the Lady Hornets are scheduled to play at third-place North Little Rock (7-3) on Tuesday before finishing up at home against fourth-place Conway (7-4).
The loss came despite two homers from Meagan Chism plus shots from Alissa Suarez and Sarah Evans. But all four were solo shots. Evans’ came in the bottom of the seventh, keeping Bryant’s hopes alive after Cabot had taken a 6-5 lead in the top of the inning.
In the top of the eighth, by rule, Skylar Reed started at second base for Cabot with the top of the line-up coming around. But Riley Walthall, who had three hits in the game, popped out to Maddie Thompson at third then Leah Gerald grounded out to Suarez at second.
But a walk to Rylee Hamilton kept the inning going for Lee, who drilled a 2-0 pitch over the fence in center.
Eight of Cabot’s nine runs scored after two were out. The only one that wasn’t came in the first. Walthall singled, was sacrificed to second, took third on an infield hit by Hamilton and scored when Lee hit a grounder to second for a force then beat the throw to first, avoiding the inning-ending doubleplay as Walthall scored.
Bryant tied it in the bottom of the inning when Regan Ryan singled, took second on Thompson’s sacrifice, third on Evans’ groundout and scored on a clutch single by Chism, who wound up with three hits and three runs batted in.
It stayed 1-1 until the bottom of the third when Suarez swatted her solo blast on a 1-1 pitch from Cabot’s Ashlyn Spears.
For the only time in the game, Cabot was retired in order in the top of the fourth. In the home half, Chism led off with her first homer on the very first pitch of the inning.
Loveless and Brooklyn Trammell followed with singles, but Maddie Stephens liner was snagged by Grace Neal at third and Sam Still, in as a courtesy runner for Loveless, was doubled off second.
In the fifth, the first two Lady Panthers were retired but the third out was hard to come by. Hamilton doubled then, on an 0-2 pitch, so did Lee to make a 3-2 game. Neal cracked a double on a 2-1 delivery to tie the game. Spears followed with a chopper that ticked the glove of Loveless in the pitcher’s circle. Evans, the Bryant shortstop, fielded the ball but her throw to first was wide of the mark and got past Trammell. The go-ahead run scored.
Suarez was robbed of a hit by Gerald, the Cabot second baseman to start the home fifth. With two down, Thompson walked but she was stranded.
In the sixth, once again, the first two outs were in the bank when Walthall singled up the middle. Gerald single to right then Hamilton hit a grounder to the right side. Trying to range to her right to field, Trammell got to it but couldn’t pick it cleanly. Not only was Hamilton safe at first but Walthall raced home to make it 5-3.
Chism came through with her second bomb to lead off the bottom of the sixth. Loveless singled to right and Trammell lashed a double to right-center to put runners at second and third with no one out. With Callie Bradley in runner for Loveless, Stephens hit a one-hopper back to Spears who turned to check on Bradley and found she had taken a couple of steps toward the plate. She through to third and Bradley took off for the plate but was thrown out by Neal.
Bella Herring singled up the middle and Trammell scored to make it 5-5. With the throw to the plate to stop Stephens, Herring hustled into second.
With one out, Suarez pushed a bunt hard to the right side right at Lee, rushing in from first base. The ball glanced off her glove, but she pounced on it quickly enough to shovel the ball to the plate in time to get Stephens trying to score.
With two down and the go-ahead run at third with Herring, Ryan made a bid for an extra-base knock, but her liner was snagged by Neal at third to end the inning.
Those stranded runners loomed large as the top of the seventh unfolded. Neal single and was bunted to second by Spears. The second out came on a little pop that Loveless caught in the circle.
That brought up Kailyn King who was 0 for 3 at that point. On the first pitch to her, however, she poked a soft liner to shallow right for an RBI single that put Cabot back on top, 6-5.
Down to their last three outs, the Lady Hornets got a big lift from Evans, as the senior launched her homer to center, tying the game again in dramatic fashion.
That sent the game to extra innings, the second extra inning game of the week for the Lady Hornets who won on Tuesday at Fort Smith Southside in nine.