Benton explodes on Greenbrier, wins tournament with ease

BENTON – The Lady Panthers did something Saturday that no other Benton High School softball team had completed in a very long time. After getting past Springdale Harber in the first round of the Bootsie Gordon Tournament in Benton, the Lady Panthers beat Dardanelle 6-0 and Nashville 7-0 to advance to the finals against Greenbrier. After a crazy homerun call early in the game, the Lady Panthers prevailed to beat Greenbrier 12-2 to become tournament champions.

The Lady Panthers started their Saturday morning off with a win over Dardanelle and looked to keep moving when they faced a very scrappy Nashville team.

Head Coach Heidi Cox said after the Dardanelle game that her team really need to jump on teams early. That is exactly what they did against Nashville on Saturday. The Lady Panthers scored five quick runs over the first two innings while starting pitcher Lauren White worked hard to not allow a run to Nashville in a complete-game shutout, Benton's second of the day.

Jessica Franklin allowed one hit and struck out 10 Dardanelle hitters in the first game for Benton on Saturday.

The Lady Panthers continued to score in the third inning, adding two more runs to put Nashville away 7-0 and head into the finals. Stevi Berg led Benton going 3 for 4 with two runs and two RBIs in the contest. Korie Parker added two hits along with two runs and two RBIs also. Benton sent 28 hitters to the plate over the course of four innings against Nashville.

White gave up only two hits and forced the Scrappers to ground out eight times in the game.

Cox did not take anything away from Nashville though, despite beating them 7-0.

"Nashville is a good team and are very well-coached," Cox said. "To be able to say that you beat Nashville, Arkansas, is really saying something."

But the biggest fireworks show was yet to come. With a little break in between games, Benton calmed their nerves with some food before taking the field in the finals Saturday night.

Benton started the game off on fire with their first four batters reaching base. It was all short-lived as Berg, the first batter to reach, was gunned down at home and Daphney Bono was called out for interference. Bailey LeVart ended the inning with a pop out to second base. What seemed like a promising inning ended with nothing for Benton.

That was not the case for Greenbrier as they pushed two quick runs across the plate in the bottom of the first. Greenbrier's first two hitters reached on singles and later scored on a passed ball by Amanda Jones and a Benton error.

Franklin was able to settle her team and herself down and retired the next three batters in order via two strikeouts and a ground out.

Then the unthinkable happened. With Greenbrier leading 2-0 in the top of the second, designated hitter, and once Greenbrier athlete, Taylor Atkinson came to the plate. With a 1-0 count, Atkinson rocketed a screaming homerun over the left field wall. But, as she was taking her homerun trot, Atkinson missed first base and was called out after Greenbrier's head coach protested the call.

Still with all of the momentum, Greenbrier allowed back-to-back runners to reach base on errors bringing a very hot bat in Berg back to the plate. She did not miss a beat as she jumped on a pitch and monstered a two-RBI double into left field to tie the game at 2-2.

Benton ended the inning with a ground out by Bono.

Franklin continued to pitch very well as she sat down 18 straight hitters including the final three in the first inning. Franklin retired 14 straight against Dardanelle earlier in the day.

Benton went cold in the third and fourth inning and could not get a runner home despite getting two on base in the third. It wasn't until the fifth inning that Benton broke the tie. Parker reached on a one-out single and was later driven in by Jessica Hardig a couple of batters later to make it 3-2 Benton. From there on, Benton never looked back as they continued to dominate Greenbrier's pitching. The Lady Panthers scored six runs in the sixth inning before adding three more in the seventh to beat Greenbrier 12-2, keeping the Bootsie Gordon title in Benton.

Berg, Atkinson and Parker all had three hits in the finals for Benton. Franklin gave up only two hits and struck out nine in the contest. She also only walked one batter. Franklin also retired 21 of her last 22 hitters.

For Cox, the win was huge for her and her team.

"It has been a long time since Benton has won this title," Cox said. "Our girls really wanted this and they played very well."

Benton went 47 of 103 at the plate for a combined tournament batting average of .456. Benton pitching allowed just six runs on 12 hits and four walks in the tournament. White and Franklin also combined to pitch back-to-back shutouts on Saturday. They also combined for 24 strikeouts in the tournament.

"The (final) was kind of a crazy game throughout," Cox said. "We ended up scoring and just exploded on them after the (fifth) inning."

Cox was very pleased with the fact that her team continued to progress and get better as the tournament went on.

"I was able to get a lot of girls in the game because the Greenbrier coach pitched the same girl throughout the tournament and she was tired," Cox said.

"We were just ripping the ball. Even the girls that I put in late were hitting well."

The Lady Panthers ended the two-day tournament with a 4-0 record to move to 6-1 overall. They will play host to Nashville again on Tuesday when the Scrappers come back to Lady Panther Park.

First pitch is set for 5 p.m.