This weekend is what the Lady Hornets have been waiting for all season: the 7A State Tournament Championship.
And in order for the defending champs to be successful Saturday against its 7A Central foe North Little Rock, the Lady Hornets will need big games from their pitcher-catcher combo, juniors Peyton Jenkins and Jessie Taylor.
The 17-year-old “beats,” as head coach Debbie Clark affectionately calls them, have led the team in the field and at the plate.
Taylor, the team’s catcher, has a .511 batting average, hitting safely 46 times in her 90 trips to the plate. On the season she has 11 home runs (the same as last year) and 41 RBIs, scoring 37 times herself. She also has a .654 on-base percentage, walking 11 times and striking out only four times.
Jenkins, last year’s championship game MVP, has a .367 BA, hitting safely 29 times in 79 at bats, while walking 14 times (giving her a .458 OBP). In 26 games and nearly 150 innings pitched, Jenkins has a 10-2 record with a 1.20 ERA and 208 strikeouts.
“They are both unbelievable competitors,” Clark said. “They do not settle for mediocrity, and they hate to lose. They are probably the first two players who come to my mind when I think of ‘beasts.’”
Clark’s term of endearment is an acronym standing for best, extra, attitude, student and teammate: five characteristics she stresses to her team.
“It is amazing how they understand each other and can almost read each other’s mind on the field,” she said.
Taylor said, “Peyton and I have been playing together for such a long time that we just know how the other is. We know how the other plays and how the other will react in certain situations. ... When I call a pitch, Peyton was probably already thinking the same thing. That’s just how in sync we are when we’re on defense.”
Jenkins said, “Jessie is strong and very reliable teammate and friend. She has more passion for the game than anyone I know. She never gives up, even when it’s the hardest of times, and always strives to be the best.”
Bryant (23-6, 12-2 7A Central) advanced to the championship game Monday by beating Fayetteville 2-1 in the 7A State Tournament semifinals in Bentonville.
Both players said they are excited to be playing the championship game — especially against North Little Rock, who beat Bryant in the championship game their freshman year and beat the Lady Hornets twice this year during the regular season.
Taylor said, “They are a good team. They have some great athletes, and I definitely respect them. They’re one of those teams that you can’t take lightly at all.
Jenkins said, “[North Little Rock] is a strong, well coached, all around solid ball team. They beat us my freshman year in the state championship final game. It was the worst feeling in the world. We don’t want that to happen again.”
Taylor added, “I wouldn’t want it any other way. I know what it feels like to be the runner up, and it’s not fun. Also being a state champion adds pressure because it kind of puts a target on our back. And I really like that. I love pressure.”
Jenkins said, “I feel like we accomplished what we have worked for all year.”
Recalling what it was like to win the state championship last year, Jenkins said she was “overwhelmed with great emotion. It was defiantly one of the most memorable moments of my life.”
Taylor said, “It was amazing. We, as a team, wanted it so bad! I think we all realized, especially in that fifth inning, that we didn’t get that far just to get that far. We weren’t satisfied.
“And when it finally happened, and I was running out to the mound for the infamous dogpile, it all hit me. We were state champions. It’s honestly the best feeling ever.”
Their head coach, who described both players’ swing as “textbook,” said, “They are strong, but both have a soft side.”
“Peyton always wants to know that I made it home safe after late games and worries about me and my family. Jessie helps coach her little sister’s softball team and is wonderful with her little brother.”
Jenkins said, “Playing for coach Clark has been an awesome experience. She knows the game like the back of her hand. She pushes us mentally and physically to be the best we can be. Playing for her has made me more than a better player, but a better person. Her stories and speeches are both motivational and inspirational.”
Taylor said, “Playing for coach Clark has been/is a great experience. She spends so much of her time and effort on being there for us and pushing us to be the best we can be — physically and mentally.”
Clark said, “They understand the game, and they know how to teach the game. They have amazing instincts. They are tough, tough, tough!
“They have taught me about power and have made a lasting impression on my life. They are J.T. and P.J., and I am blessed to be their coach.”
For Taylor, being a member of the Lady Hornets has been a lifelong dream.
“I remember being a little girl and coming and watching the Lady Hornets play softball, and all I could think about was how it would feel to be out there — to be a Lady Hornet.
“And now I am, and I finally know what it feels like. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to represent my school for the past three years, and I can’t imagine playing high school softball anywhere but Bryant High School.”
Jenkins said, “I would never choose to play for any other team in the state. I love my coaches and girls way too much. We’ve been through a lot together and built a lot of new traditions the past three years.
“I’m very proud and honored to represent Bryant at the state tournament championship for the third year in a row.”
Both girls are equally as proud of their teammates — especially the junior varsity players.
Taylor said, “The girls are amazing. We’ve really come together as a team. There isn’t one girl on the team that isn’t different from all of the rest, but we still put all those differences aside.”
She said, “I’m so proud of the JV players. They don’t play varsity, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a huge part of this team. They push the starting line up so hard in practice everyday to get better, and then cheer us on in games.
“The girls on this team are all amazing people, and I couldn’t have asked for better teammates.”
Jenkins said. “Every girl on the team is completely different. We all have our own style, personality and ways of going about the game. Every girl on our team has great heart and work ethic. When we are all together we know how to put our differences aside and become a unit. We knew if we couldn’t do that then we would never be where we are today.
“Every girl on our team is not only an amazing ball player but an amazing person and friend.”