Bryant defeats Benton in opener

BRYANT - Benton and Bryant matched up for the softball version of the Salt Bowl as both softball teams battled for bragging rights on Tuesday night at Bishop Park.

With rain threatening game play, both teams came out hot on defense.
Bryant starting pitcher Peyton Jenkins shut down the Lady Panthers bats in the top of the first with a three-and-out performance including two strikeouts looking.

With momentum heading into the home half of the first, Bryant looked to strike first but was unsuccessful. After a ground out to third and a strikeout, Bryant found themselves with runners on first and second after a walk and a single. That was as far as they would get after a ground out to third ended the inning in a 0-0 tie.

The pitching battle continued for a while as both teams continued to shut each other down. For Benton, it was a little tougher as they had to battle out of jams in all but one of the first five innings. Bryant had a runner on first with one out and threatening in the bottom of the second but couldn’t score. A runner caught stealing followed by a ground out to the shortstop ended the threat. Benton did get a base runner in the top of the second when Taylor Atkinson hit a laser double to left, but was stranded after Ashton Curry struck out to end the top of the inning.

Bryant found themselves with runners on base in all of the first three innings, but could not get any of them past second base.

In the top of the fourth, Benton stared at a nothing-nothing, two-out situation when Jessica Hardy came to the plate. With a 2-0 count, Jenkins lost control of a pitch and hit Hardy. That set up the game’s first score. A double from Bailey Levart put runners on second and third.

With Jenkins still rolling on the mound, the unthinkable happened. WIth two on and two out, Jenkins’ next pitch missed getting to the plate by about a foot as it rolled to the backstop. The wild pitch allowed Hardy to score the game’s first run and sent Levart to third.

Jenkins got the last out on a strikeout looking against Drew Melton on Benton’s next plate appearance. Bryant could not answer in their half of the fourth as they were shut down via the fly out, line out and strike out looking.

Jenkins returned the favor as she shut Benton down 1-2-3 in the fifth, adding another strikeout to the stat book.

After allowing the games only run to score on a wild pitch in the fourth, Jenkins came to the plate in the sixth with something to prove.
With a 1-1 count, Jenkins turned on a ball and sent a sharp liner to left field for a lead off single. A sac bunt one at bat later sent Jenkins to second. Then the fun began. With 1-0 count, Carly Yazza stroked a single off of Benton’s relief pitcher Jessica Franklin that went into right field and scored Jenkins to tie the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning. With only one out, Bryant could not get Yazza across the plate as Franklin got Bryant to pop out twice to end the inning.

The weather finally played a factor in the game in the top of the seventh. With the wind howling, Hardy stepped back to the plate for Benton. What seemed like a routine fly ball turned into a disaster as Yazza could not contain the wind and catch the ball, putting Hardy at second base on the error.

But Jenkins never flinched as she shut Benton’s hitters down with two strikeouts and a fly out to end the top of the seventh.

With the score tied at 1-1 and the dugouts going crazy, Mackenzie Rice stepped to the plate for Bryant. Four balls later and she was standing on first with a lead-off walk. It seemed as if the worst was over when Franklin got two back-to-back outs via the sac bunt out, sending Rice to second, and a strikeout. With one on and two out, Bryant sent Brittany Ball to the plate. Drawing the second walk of the inning, Bryant found themselves with runners on first and second still with two outs.

As Jenkins walked to the plate, the Bryant bench was still cheering loudly following the walk to Ball. With a 1-1 count, Jenkins waited on the pitch a forced a walk-off single into right field to give Bryant to 2-1 victory over arch rival Benton.

Jenkins led Bryant with three hits and one run. She also threw 11 strikeouts in the game.

Levart and Atkinson led Benton with a hit each.