Friday, May 21, 2010

SPORTS>>Bryant bounces Cabot from state

Leader sportswriter

A fast start turned into a disappointing ending for the Cabot Lady Panthers in the 7A state softball semifinals Tuesday night.

Bryant beat Cabot 11-3, holding the Lady Panthers to one run and scoring 11 in the final six innings at the Cabot Softball Complex. Bryant will face Bentonville in the championship game at 2 p.m. today in Fayetteville.

The Lady Hornets (25-2) gave up two runs in the top of the first inning, but answered in the bottom of the second to tie the game 2-2. Bryant scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth to take momentum and got more than enough insurance in the sixth, when Shanika Johnson and starting pitcher Peyton Jenkins each hit home runs.

“I’ve teased the girls all year,” first-year Bryant coach Debbie Step said. “For so many years of my coaching career, I’ve had to play the short game a lot. I had a strong hitter here or there, but I came to this group, and it’s like beast after beast after beast.

“So, I’ve been teasing them, calling them the ‘Bryant Beasts’ because when their bats get hot, they can hit the ball.”

Jenkins and Johnson were in full beast mode in the bottom of the sixth as they stepped up against a tiring Kendall Calderon and laced a pair of pitches from the Cabot senior over the left field fence.

Jenkins’ homer was a three-run blast that scored Jenna Bruick and Cassidy Wilson to put the Lady Hornets up 9-3. Johnson’s drive was a two-run shot that nearly ended up in the parking lot and set the final margin.

Cabot (23-10) took the lead in the first with a single from leadoff hitter Caitlinn Gunn, who came in on an error when Jenkins misplayed Kristi Flesher’s grounder to the pitcher’s circle. Flesher then scored on Bryant’s second error, when left fielder Ashley Chanoner dropped Tara Boyd’s fly to make it 2-0.

Bryant’s sophomore-dominated team kept its composure despite the early mishaps, working out of a jam in the top of the third to hold Cabot scoreless and giving up only one more run in the remainder of the game.

“They told me they were known for being the comeback kids,” Step said of her young team. “I told them at first I wasn’t sure about that, but even tonight, I could feel that they felt like even though we were behind, that we could come back and win it.”

The bottom of Cabot’s order set up opportunities in the fourth when No. 8 hitter Jenny Evans and Sarah Martin hit back-to-back singles with one out. Jenkins then struck out Gunn but misplayed a bunt by Chelsea Conrade.

That loaded the bases for the Lady Panthers, but Jenkins got Flesher on called strikes to end the inning.

Cabot scored in the top of the sixth when Evans reached on an error at shortstop, advanced on a single by Martin and scored when Conrade grounded out to first.

“We couldn’t make it last,” Cabot coach Becky Steward said of her team’s early momentum. “It’s kind of like we’ve been snake bitten all year. We get people on base, but yet we can’t push them across. You can’t get to the semifinals of the state tournament and not produce, and we just didn’t.”

Jenkins was 3 for 4 for Bryant with a home run and three RBI and Johnson was 2 for 4 with a home run and two RBI. For Cabot,
Martin was 2 for 3 and designated player Taylor Anderson was 2 for 4.

“People didn’t expect for us to be where we were,” Steward said. “This time of the year, I guess it’s anybody’s game.

“For the seniors, I hate that it ended this way. They’ve had a good four years. Those coming back, they need to take this and run with it and see if they can build on it.”