Bryant makes State Finals, looking for 3-peat

With a 7-0 semifinal win over the West No. 2 seed Springdale Har-Ber Lady Cats on Saturday in the State Tournament at Lady Hornet Field, the Central No. 1 seed Bryant Lady Hornets will make their third consecutive trip to the State Final game against the Bentonville Lady Tigers on Saturday, May 19, at Park in Fayetteville. Bryant will try to make it three titles in a row and are currently on a 36-game winning streak, dating to last season.

But, the Lady Hornets (33-0) may have gotten some bad news when star senior pitcher Peyton Jenkins left Saturday’s game with an apparent knee injury with two outs in the top of the third inning. Jenkins had struck out four in a row and had an 0-2 count on the potential fifth when she went to the ground after a strike call and couldn’t get back up.

“I don’t know about hurt,” Bryant Coach Debbie Clark said. “We’re not going to make any statements about hurt until she’s evaluated.”

Freshman Jordan Williams came in for Jenkins and followed nicely in the senior’s footsteps, holding the Lady Cats scoreless for the Lady Hornets fifth consecutive shutout and eighth out of their last nine games.
Williams finished the night with the win pitching four and one-third innings. She gave up two hits and a walk and threw 45 pitches. Jenkins threw two and two-thirds giving up a hit and striking out four.

“I’m so proud,” Clark said of Williams. “She’s a freshman and I asked her to step into the biggest game of her career so far. She did great. She made a statement for us and I’m proud of that.”

After scoring six runs in the first inning of Bryant’s 10-0 quarterfinal win against Rogers on Friday, the Lady Hornets settled for just three when senior catcher Jessie Taylor hit a three-run bomb over the center field fence. Senior leadoff Jenna Bruick reached when she was hit by a pitch and Jenkins doubled to center field before her injury. Taylor followed with the homer to put Bryant up 3-0 after one.

“That’s what we’ve been good about all year, being able to put runs up and today was no different,” Clark said. “It’s hard when something like that happens for a team to stay focused and they did a good job.”

The Lady Hornets scored three more in the bottom of the third after Jenkins went down. Williams led the bottom of the inning off with a walk and Taylor was hit by a pitch.

Senior center fielder Kayla Sory had a 10-pitch at bat that resulted in a two-run double to put Bryant up 5-0. Sory later scored on a single from sophomore Kaley Coppock to make it 6-0.

Junior McKenzie Rice gave Bryant another insurance run when she hit a two-out home run, her second of the year, over the right-center field fence in the bottom of the sixth. Rice hit her first home run of the year in the same spot.

“You’re going to throw her an outside pitch and she’s going to go with it,” Clark said of Rice.

Rice finished 3 for 3 and Sory was 2 for 3 with a run and two RBIs. Taylor was 1 for 2 with three RBIs, including the team’s 41st home run of the year, a state record with the previous record being 36. It was Jenkins’ 12th of the year.

Clark mentioned some of the plays which make Bryant so good, such as Bruick jumping and catching a liner at second base for the last out of the fifth with a runner at second, and Williams making a good play to catch a runner off of third base and throwing her out.

“Jenna Bruick made a great play,” Clark said. “We had so many great plays. Throwing the girl out at third; Jordan got the ball over there. That’s what is so great about this team is they make the plays. Everything is great about this team. It’s a great day to be a Lady Hornet.”

The Lady Hornets will take on the West No. 1 seed Bentonville Lady Tigers for the 7A Championship at 12:30 on Saturday at the University of Arkansas’ Bogel Park.

“First of all, they’re the No. 1 team out of their conference (7A West),” Clark said. “They’ve got a great coach. They run well, they hit the ball and they’re not going to make many errors, so we just have to put the ball in play which is what we do every game. We’ll be ready.”