BENTON – If there is one team in the 6A conference with a better chance to win the state title than the Benton Lady Panthers, they have not made their way to Lady Panther Park in 2012. Since having their 18-game winning streak snapped last weekend in the Beebe/Searcy Tournament at the hand of Jonesboro Westside, Benton has ran their new streak to four straight after winning their 10th consecutive conference game on Saturday against Texarkana. After Friday was filled with rain and high winds, Benton was forced to reschedule until Saturday, where they won 7-3.
Benton beat up on Texarkana earlier in the year, but before the game made its way into extra innings. Benton head coach and former Texarkana coach, Heidi Cox was also ejected in the game after arguing a call at first.
On Saturday, Lauren White started from the circle for Benton and was rolling though the first three innings, sitting down the Lady Razorbacks in order in all three. White used four ground outs and two strikeouts to sit down the first nine batters.
For the Benton offense, the bats were a little louder than Texarkana’s. Daphne Bono reached base for the first hit in the game in the bottom of the first, but was left stranded. In the second, Benton led the inning off with a double from Taylor Atkinson. A sacrifice bunt from Bailey LeVart moved Atkinson to third with only one out in the inning. Benton looked to have the first run of the game after Hailey Durham hit a grounder to shortstop. Instead, Atkinson was gunned down at the plate as Durham reached on a fielder’s choice. Benton put another runner on base on a single from Jessica Hardig but could not score as Texarkana escaped unscathed.
Benton did, however, finally get on the scoreboard in the third with a run. Stevi Berg led the inning off with a single and later scored on an RBI single from Korie Parker following a walk to Bono. Despite a second straight hit in the inning, this time off the bat of Atkinson, one run was all that Benton could push across, taking a 1-0 lead. Texarkana answered in the top of the fourth, taking the lead at 2-1 on two hits and a Benton error.
Despite being down, Benton rallied back in their half of the fourth, scoring another run. Durham led off by reaching on an error and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Drew Melton after being moved over by Hardig on a sacrifice bunt.
With the score tied at 2-2, White settled back down and held the Lady ‘Backs scoreless in the fifth, sitting them down in order once again.
For Benton, the offense continued to score as it broke the game open with a three-run fifth inning to push the score to 5-2. Benton put five straight runners on base to start the fifth. Bono led off with a single, while Sydnee Goldman followed with a walk, setting Parker up to do damage. With a 1-1 count, Parker stroked a two-RBI double into left field. Atkinson followed with an RBI double for Benton to make it 5-2.
White continued to shut down Texarkana late in the game. In the sixth, White gave up a base hit but nothing else as Benton continued to hold a three-run advantage.
The Lady Panthers sent seven hitters to the dish in the sixth and pushed across two more runs to move their lead to five at 7-2. Melton walked to lead the inning off and scored on a two-run inside the park home run by Berg.
Benton strung together two more hits in the inning, but could not score again.
Texarkana tried to put together a rally in the seventh, scoring one, but fell way short as White tallied another win for the Lady Panthers with a 7-3 victory.
White struck out four while giving up three hits and walked one. She also used 11 ground outs in the win, including a double play in the seventh.
Atkinson led Benton in hits, going 4 for 4 at the plate with two doubles and an RBI.
Parker and Bono both went 3 for 4 at the dish on Saturday. Parker drove in two and scored once while Bono added two runs in the win.
Even though Benton won, the slow start at the plate over the past few games is not what Cox is wanting as her team heads for the state playoffs.
“I want us to jump ahead first and quick,” Cox said. “I want the other team to have to battle back for a win.”
As for the offensive attack for her team and the pitching from White, Cox was very happy.
“The hits that Texarkana had were not hard hits,” Cox said. “We were hitting the ball really hard and this was the first game that we actually put down every bunt that we needed too.”
Benton’s season is winding down with only five games left on the schedule before heading into the state playoffs on May 10. Of those five games, only three are conference games.
But, while the state tournament may not be familiar territory for many teams in the state, for Benton, it has been almost like a second home. Over the past three years, the Lady Panthers have finished second all three years. Cox is hoping that she can push her girls, especially her seniors, over that hump and bring home a state title.
“This will be big for me and for the girls that have been their three years in a row,” Cox said.
While Cox was at Texarkana, she took her team to the state tournament every year, but never advanced past the second round.
With Saturday’s win, Benton moved their record to 21-2 overall and 10-0 in conference play. Benton will take the field once again on Wednesday when they travel the short trek to Sheridan for another 6A match-up. First pitch is set for 4:30 p.m.View more articles in: