Friday, March 15, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> NLR girls shut out Panthers

Leader sportswriter

Clutch defense and a strong fourth inning helped catapult the Charging Lady Wildcats to a 4-0 win over Cabot in Tuesday’s 7A/6A East Conference matchup at North Little Rock’s Burns Park.

The first three innings were a defensive battle as both teams were held scoreless, but North Little Rock (7-4, 2-0) broke that streak in the bottom of the fourth. Five-hole hitter Hannah Lovercheck led off the inning with a single to centerfield, and Erin Columbus followed with a sacrifice bunt.

As Columbus ran to first, the throw from the third baseline sailed over Lady Panther first baseman Kayla Henard, and as the ball rolled past the right field foul line, Lovercheck scored with ease to put North Little Rock up 1-0. Columbus advanced all the way to third on the errant throw.

It was one of three Lady Panther errors in the game, and the Charging Lady Wildcats made them pay for it the very next at bat. With Columbus on third and no outs, first baseman Kathryn Kinnison hammered a two-run home run to straight centerfield to give North Little Rock a 3-0 cushion.

Cabot (2-4, 0-1) had a chance to put runs on the board in the top of the fifth, but like the previous two innings, it was unable to get the timely hit when it needed it the most. The Lady Panthers left a total of 10 runners on base in the game, and ended the third, fourth and fifth innings with the bases loaded.

“I think we pitched it pretty good when we had to pitch it at times,” said Charging Lady Wildcats coach Anthony Cantrell. “We got out of some big jams. They had the bases loaded at least twice, and we made plays when we had to make plays.”

The Lady Panthers were able to load the bases with just one out in the fourth and fifth innings, but on each occasion, North Little Rock pitcher Rachel Gregory made sure nothing would come from it.

With the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, Cabot’s Lane Justus laid down a bunt, but the ball barely got past home plate, which allowed catcher McKenzie Escovedo to easily apply the force out at home.

Gregory ended the inning with one of her 12 strikeouts the next at bat. When Cabot was faced with the same scenario in the top of the fifth, Gregory ended the inning with two-straight strikeouts in dominant fashion.

“We had the bases loaded with one out and had hitters up that we thought we could count on, and just didn’t get the job done when we needed to,” said Lady Panthers coach Chris Cope. “Hopefully we’ll learn from that, and next time we’ll take care of it. We didn’t get a timely hit or a bunt.

“Then we had three errors in the game. When they went up 3-0, we had two errors in that inning, and that kills us right now. We’ve got to believe. We were in that game and North Little Rock is probably the best team in the conference right now, and we were there. We’ve got to find a way to win.”

North Little Rock set the final score in the bottom of the fifth with a one out, RBI-single by Lovercheck.

Gregory scored from second on the play after leading off the inning with a single to the left field gap.

Gregory pitched all seven innings in the winning effort. Lovercheck led North Little Rock with two hits. Gregory, Kinnison, Sydney Parr and Lydia Belew each had a base hit for the Charging Lady Wildcats.

Taylor Anderson led the Lady Panthers with two hits. Justus, Henard, Heather Hill and Brandyn Vines each had a base hit for Cabot.

North Little Rock’s next conference game will be March 26 at West Memphis. Cabot played at Little Rock Central yesterday after deadlines, and will continue conference play against Marion at home on March 26. Both March 26 games start at 5 p.m.