BENTON — Leading the game 2-1 in the bottom of the third inning, Benton’s Bailey LeVart hit a three-run home run to give the Lady Panthers a four-run cushion as Benton ended up defeating Sheridan 6-3 Friday night at home.
“We have had several girls swinging a hot stick,” Benton coach Eric Ryan said. “It started back in Shreveport, and everybody got a good look at live pitching. Ever since then they have been real hot.
“That [home run] right there just shows you when somebody gets confident in what they can do, good things will happen.”
Tiffani Pledger led off the third inning with a single, and Kori Parker was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second with nobody out.
With one out, Pledger scored on an error by Sheridan’s third baseman that allowed Jessica Smith to reach first.
On a 2-1 count, LeVart hit a shot over the left-center field wall to give Benton a 5-1 lead.
“They are out there on the field and they are giving it everything they got,” Ryan said. “Sometimes you are going to get thrown out, and sometimes you are going to be safe.
“Right now they are learning how to handle success.”
Smith, who started pitching for the Lady Panthers, got through the first two innings without much trouble, allowing only a walk to Allison Stipes in the second inning.
However, back-to-back doubles by Mycah Love and Hannah Hicks with two outs in the third inning tied the game at one apiece.
“I thought early on we were tight and nervous,” Sheridan coach Eddie Woodall said. “I thought we were just a little scared of the platform and the situation.
“We made blunders on routine plays that we would have made 99 times out of a 100. That is nothing but nerves on a big stage, and that is something we have to overcome.”
Three consecutive singles in the fourth inning by Sheridan would load the bases with nobody out. A double would plate both Katlyn Jones and Jordan Jones and cut Benton’s lead to 5-3.
Benton closer Jessica Franklin would relived Smith, and after allowing a runner to reach, Franklin set down the next three batters on a strikeout, pop up behind the plate and fly out to left field.
“She has been in sort of a closer role for us, and she is different from our other veteran pitchers,” Ryan said. “She has a different style, and I guess the ball looks a little bigger because they are going after it.”
Smith pitched three innings, allowing three runs on six hits with two strikeouts. Franklin pitched four innings, allowing one hit and no runs.
“They brought a pitcher in that was throwing a little rise ball, and we couldn’t stay off the high stuff,” Woodall said. “They deserved to win. We didn’t play well enough, and I thought we played a little scared.”
If Sheridan had won Friday, they would have been in sole possession of first place in the 6A South.
“Hats off to Benton. Coach Ryan had them ready, and he does a great job,” Woodall said. “They got it done when they needed and we didn’t.”
Benton took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Kara Franklin singled home Pledger, who had doubled with one out.
The Lady Panthers will play at North Little Rock Monday at 5 p.m.View more articles in: