Benton falls to Russellville to end season

There is an old saying that has been around for many, many decades: “You win some, you lose some.”

Those words have been muttered by coaches and athletes millions of times. The second part of the quote, “but you live to fight another day,” is the part that isn’t always the case.

For the Benton Lady Panthers softball team, that “other day” will have to wait until next season. On Monday, following a rained-out state semi-final match scheduled for Saturday, the Lady Panthers fought hard and long, but could not overcome a wild pitch and a late error to beat the Russellville Lady Cyclones.
They lost 2-1.

Starting pitcher Jessica Franklin took the circle for Benton and early on found herself in some unfamiliar territory. Franklin started off the first inning with back-to-back strikeouts, but later was fighting to get out of the inning.

Following the strikeouts, the Lady Cyclones put three straight hitters on base, two via hits and one on a walk. Still with two outs, Franklin released a pitch that ran a little high and got away from catcher Sydnee Goldman, giving Russellville its first run of the game.
Franklin ended the inning with her third strikeout.

For Benton, the bats were not awake for nearly the whole game. After scoring 26 runs in the first two games of the 6A State Tournament, Benton was struggling to get runners on base Monday.

In the first, Benton went down in order. Franklin settled down for the most part over the last six innings, allowing just two hits and striking out six. Unfortunately, Benton could not muster anything either as the bats continued to sleep.

The Lady Panthers squeaked out five hits from the second to the seventh inning. The Lady Panthers did load the bases in the fourth with just one out but could not score, leaving the score in Russellville’s favor at 1-0.

The scoreboard remained useless until the top of the seventh inning, when the Lady Cyclones pushed across their second run of the game, this time on a Benton error. With two on and two out, Russellville scored on an error by Bailey LeVart to take a 2-0 lead in the seventh.

Benton, however, did attempt to rally back in the bottom of the inning, scoring one but falling just short of a comeback.

After a leadoff ground out by Jessica Hardig, Drew Melton tallied her second hit of the day, driving the ball to the outfield for a one out triple. Melton later scored after a sacrifice fly off the bat of Stevi Berg. Needing just one run to force extra innings, Daphne Bono struck out swinging to end the game and Benton’s chances of making the state finals for the fourth straight season.

“There are a lot of ‘what ifs,’” head coach Heidi Cox said. “I sure thought we would hit the ball better and jump on (Russellville’s pitcher) a little bit more.”

Benton bashed out seven hits in the game and struck out only three times.
“Their pitcher is a good little pitcher,” Cox said. “She is only going to get better in the next couple of years. We hit the ball too late and not enough with runners on base.”

Franklin gave up just four hits in the game and struck out nine. She also walked three.

As for the offense, Taylor Atkinson led the Lady Panthers at the dish with a 2-2 night. Atkinson was caught stealing in the second with just one out in the inning. Melton followed Atkinson, going 2-3, scoring once.

Goldman, LeVart and Hardig tallied the other three hits for Benton.
Other than the loss to Russellville, Benton also loses four seniors that will not be returning next season. Starting pitcher Lauren White, backup catcher Amanda Jones, outfielder Hailey Durham and LeVart will all be graduating later this month.

“I know this is heartbreaking for them,” Cox said. “I wanted to see them get there and win one. It just shows you that you have to get here and finish. It shows that the best team can lose.”

The four seniors end their career with three finals appearances and back-to-back runner-ups in 2010 and 2011.

Benton finishes its season with a 30-3 overall record. Though a state championship will not be added to the trophy case, the Lady Panthers did add two pieces of hardware in 2012. Benton won its own tournament in March, the Bootsie Gordon Classic, and also brought home the 6A South conference title with a perfect 14-0 showing.

“I wish the best of luck to the other teams,” Cox said. “I told our girls to hold their heads high. Yeah, this is the big stage, but we had a good year. Fourteen and zero in conference is really good.”

For Russellville, freshman starting pitcher Andrea Kendrick went 3-3 with three doubles and scored once.