SOFTBALL: Bryant takes winning ways to Tennessee

After winning the Tournament of Champions in North Little Rock last weekend, the Bryant Lady Hornets are taking the show on the road for spring break

Starting Thursday, Bryant (7-1, 1-0 7A Central) will be in Clarksville, Tenn., for a tournament lasting through Saturday. If they play like they did against Mountain Home on Saturday, the Lady Hornets are sure to impress the competition.

With the game tied and two outs in the bottom of the last inning, and only five minutes until midnight, when the Arkansas Activities Association requires games to be stopped, junior Kayla Sory hit a walk-off solo home run to win the game 3-2.

In all, the defending 7A State Champions beat three other defending state champions — Greenbrier (5A), Foreman (2A-7) and Mountain Home (6A) — to claim the trophy, which head coach Debbie Clark said is “bigger than a couple of my players.”

“We played some incredible talent,” Clark said. “It seems like we’ve had a hero in every game.”

Against Greenbrier Friday, junior Jessie Taylor hit a solo home run to win the game 1-0. Against Foreman Saturday, junior Cassidy Wilson laid down a bunt for a squeeze play that scored sophomore Hannah Rice, allowing the Lady Hornets to once again win 1-0.

“We needed that after losing to White Hall,” Clark said. “They needed that.”

The Lady Hornets will leave Bryant at 6:30 a.m. Thursday for Clarksville, which is near the Kentucky border. The games are pool play Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday morning. Later Saturday, an elimination tournament will be held. Bryant first plays the host team, Clarksville.

“They don’t know anything about us, and we don’t know anything about them,” Clark said. “We’ll just have to respond while we learn.”

Being able to respond to tough situations is exactly what Clark wants to instill in her players.

“We’ve been playing well. Even in our loss, they held their composure. It’s just that White Hall’s bats were hotter than ours that day,” she said.

“You have to respond and learn not to panic. All I ask the girls is to make routine plays and have good quality at bats. That puts the pressure on the other team.”

Clark said she wants her team to be confident, but not cocky. Also, she wants their level of play to remain confident instead of relying on performance peaks throughout the season.

“They have such high expectations about themselves,” she said, adding that her players were somewhat embarrassed after hearing the hype surrounding them from people in town.

“I’ve told them that you just have to learn and understand what that Bryant on the jersey means to people,” she said.
“They’re great to coach. I love being their coach.”

The Lady Hornets’ lineup is anchored by five juniors — Jenna Bruick, Wilson, Jessie Taylor, Peyton Jenkins and Sory — who were referred to as the “Fab Five Freshman” two years ago, and were instrumental in helping win the state championship last year.

Clark described Bruick, who plays second base, as a “left-handed slapper. She’s a true leadoff hitter. Somehow, someway, she makes it happen.”

Next at bat is shortstop Wilson, who Clark said “really understands what it means in that second slot,” referring to amount of bunts and sacrifice fly balls she’s asked to produce.

Taylor bats third and plays catcher. In the Lady Hornets’ eight games this season, the team has hit four home runs, three of which have come from her. Last year Taylor hit 11.

While Clark and her players don’t dwell on statistics, they love their coveted “Beast Awards,” which are given out for great performances.
“Stats are history,” Clark said.

Jenkins, Bryant’s main pitcher, bats fifth. In the Tournament of Champions, Jenkins gave up only eight hits against the three state champs. While allowing two runs (one earned), she recorded 29 strikeouts.

“We’re really good with her on the mound, because she’s so smart,” Clark said.

First baseman Sory is “another big hitter,” Clark said. “She’s good about putting the ball into play for us.”

The head coach said Sory has “best hands” she’s ever seen on a first baseman.

“She can pick anything,” she said. “It’s incredible what she can do.”

Clark said the six, seven and eight slots in the lineup change “game by game,” but have included freshmen Kaley Coppock, who has served as the designated hitter for sophomore third baseman McKenzie Rice, and right fielder Katie Stillman.

Clark, laughing, described Coppock as a “beast in training.”

“Right now we’re just trying to find who can be the most consistent for us, hitting wise,” she said.

Although at the far end of the lineup, Clark said Rice’s twin sister, sophomore Hannah Rice, has been the team’s “second leadoff.”