BENTON - Saline County is home to one of the hottest high school softball teams in the state so far this season. The Benton Lady Panthers are now 10-1 and are riding a 10-game winning streak after a dazzling performance against Sheridan, winning 7-1 on Thursday.
Benton’s week started off as an emotional rollercoaster after they traveled to the edge of the state to take on Texarkana on Monday night. After jumping on top 4-0, Benton gave up the lead before winning the game in extra innings. Head coach Heidi Cox was tossed during the game for arguing a call and due to Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) rules, she was unable to be in the ballpark Thursday. Instead, she listened to her girls play via radio.
Starting Lady Panther pitcher Jessica Franklin started the game by allowing a hit to Sheridan’s Morgan White. Three pitches later, Franklin had two outs after the two-hole hitter lined a grounder to Drew Melton at shortstop close to the second base bag allowing her to throw on to first for the double play. Franklin put the games first goose egg on the board after forcing a ground out on Sheridan to end the inning.
Benton struck first, much like they have all season. Stevi Berg led the bottom half of the first off with a single and was moved to third after a sacrifice bunt from Daphney Bono followed by a stolen base. Berg scored on an error by Sheridan during Sydney Goldman’s at bat one hitter later to put Benton up 1-0 early. That was all the Lady Panthers could get in the first. Taylor Atkinson flew out for the second out in the inning and Goldman was thrown out at the plate to end it.
Franklin had to pitch herself out of a jam in the second. After allowing a leadoff double to Allison Stykes, Franklin sent three straight Lady Yellowjackets packing via strikeouts to end the second inning.
Benton didn’t fare any better in their half of the second as they were sat down in order. Bailey LeVart did reach for Benton on a single but was thrown out at first on a bang-bang double play after Jessica Hardig lined out hard back to the pitcher.
Sheridan finally got even with Benton in the third after putting their nine-hole hitter on with one out. An error on Berg sent the runner to second. After a ground-ball out moved her to third, she later scored on a wild pitch from Franklin, knotting the score up at 1-1 in the third.
Sheridan added more runners to the bases in the third by putting back-to-back runners on after two straight walks. Franklin hunkered down and battled out of the jam situation, forcing Stykes to pop out to shortstop to end the inning.
Benton still could not get a run across in their half of the third despite getting three runners on base. Melton led off with a slap hit back to the pitcher for the first out. Berg reached on another Sheridan error but was thrown out at third on an attempted steal. Bono followed with a walk, bringing Goldman back to the plate. Looking at a 3-1 count, Goldman smoked a single into center, giving Bono the chance to score. As Bono reached third, Sheridan’s center fielder threw the ball on a rope to gun down Bono at the plate to leave the inning still in a 1-1 tie.
Franklin continued to pitch solid in the fourth, despite her team losing the momentum. After allowing another leadoff single, Franklin was able to get out of the inning by use of another double play involving Melton once again.
With a runner on third, Melton gathered a ground ball and roped it home to nail the runner. Goldman, using quick thinking, then hummed the ball down to Korie Parker at third to get the runner trying to advance to end the inning.
That was all the momentum Benton needed heading into the home half of the fourth. With the score still tied, Benton put three straight runners on base and broke the game open with a three-run fourth. Parker led off by getting hit by a pitch and later scored on a wild pitch to move the score to 2-1 Benton in the inning. Atkinson and Hailey Durham added bunt singles to load the bases before Parker scored. LeVart struck out swinging for the first out, bringing Hardig to the plate. After watching two pitches go by for strikes, Hardig jumped on the next pitch and hit a lazy fly ball that got past the diving glove of Sheridan in right field for a one-out, two-RBI triple making the score 4-1 in favor of Benton.
The Lady Panthers ended the inning on a ground out and fly out from Melton and Berg. After the double play in the fourth, Benton never looked back as they continued to give Franklin flawless defense as she continued to shut Sheridan down.
Benton added three more runs in the fifth to shut the door on the game.
After Bono grounded out to the pitcher to start the inning, Goldman, Parker and Atkinson also reached base in the fifth. Atkinson came up with runners on first and second and delivered Benton’s second two-RBI triple of the game to make it 6-1. Atkinson scored the game’s final run to make it 7-1 after LeVart reached on a two-out error by Sheridan.
Franklin ran in to some trouble in the sixth, but battled out of a bases-loaded jam before ending the game in the seventh to give Benton their 10th win of the year, extending their winning streak to 10 also.
Franklin took the loss in the opening game of the season against Bryant, but has since pitched almost perfect from the circle.
After the game, Cox could not have been any happier with the way her team performed.
“It was hard not being there with them today,” Cox said. “I am very, very proud of them. They executed and played well.”
With the win, Benton moves to 10-1 overall and 3-0 in conference play.
“One of our goals is to win this conference and now they have another win under their belt,” Cox said. “We knew Sheridan was going to be a tough opponent like they always are. But to go out and win after all that has happened this week, I am just very proud of them.”
Goldman and Atkinson led Benton with 2 for 3 showings at the plate on Thursday.
Goldman added a run and an RBI while Atkinson scored twice and drove in two on the night.
Hardig also banged out a hit with two RBIs in the win.
Benton totaled nine hits on 24 at bats. As for Franklin, she gave up five hits and four walks while striking out five.
“Sheridan is a good ball club and is going to hit the ball and put it in play,” Cox said. “(Franklin) is a go-getter and I think the more pitches she throws, the better she gets. I am very impressed with the way she is throwing. She is doing very well.”
Benton will take on White Hall on Monday in a non-conference matchup before heading to JA Fair on Tuesday to continue conference play. Both games are set to start at 4:30 p.m.View more articles in: