Tuesday, May 14, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> NLR girls going for title

Leader sports editor

There wasn’t a lot of offense, but there didn’t have to be much. North Little Rock freshman pitcher Kaleigh Wynne was on her game, and the Charging Lady Wildcats were loose and more ready to play than their opponent. The result was a 3-1 Lady Cat victory over Fayetteville in the semifinal of the class 7A state tournament Saturday in Springdale.

The Charging Lady Wildcats will face Rogers in the state championship game this Saturday at Bogle Field on the campus of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

There was a brief celebration in the infield after the win, but little else. The team huddled along the third baseline fence of a neighboring field and talked about what it has accomplished and what’s to come.

“I’m not going to stand here and get all emotional or anything like that,” North Little Rock coach Anthony Cantrell told his team after the game. “The reason is, we’re not done.”

Indeed, the Charging Lady Wildcats entered Saturday’s game like any other game, while Fayetteville started tight. Lady Bulldog pitcher Ashlye Pool didn’t get her best stuff working until about the fourth batter, and the defense behind her committed two errors in the first three at bats to give the Lady Wildcats a quick 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning.

“That’s the thing about this team man,” Cantrell said. “They love to come to the ballpark and play. A lot of teams, by this time in the season, are sick of softball. This team is not like that. They love to get out here and just play. And the situation doesn’t seem to matter to them. They just want to get out there and play.”

Fayetteville’s nerves were apparent early and the price was an early deficit.

Leadoff hitter Sydney Parr hit a hard grounder to third base to start the game. Fayetteville’s Brittany Haskins made a good play to field the grounder, but made an errant throw to first base that left Parr safe at second.

Ashton Bobbitt put down a sacrifice bunt that moved her to third. Wynne then hit a scorching line drive right to Fayetteville outfielder McKenzie Miller, but Miller whiffed on the catch, scoring Parr and leaving Wynne safe at second.

Wynne’s line drive wasn’t as impressive as the foul ball she hit two pitches earlier. Wynne’s shot, which was only about 10 feet left of the third base line, went over the field’s temporary fence at 220 feet, over the permanent fence at 240 and landed on the ticket takers tent at the front gate of the park, approximately 270 feet from home plate.

Cleanup hitter Katy Kinnison then walked, but Pool struck out the next two batters to get out of the jam.

She then struck out the side in order in the second to run her strikeout streak to five in a row, but she ran into trouble again in the third inning when the top of the order came back to the plate.

Parr ripped a fly ball over Miller’s head in left field. She ran through Cantrell’s stop sign at second base and slid in just underneath the tag on a close play at third for a triple.

“She’s got good speed and good base running instincts, that’s why she’s our leadoff hitter,” Cantrell said. “If she’d been called out, well, I don’t know what I would have done to her. But she wasn’t so it all worked out. She made a good play.”

Parr then scored on a wild pitch by Pool to empty the bases, but Bobbitt got another rally started with a single to centerfield. Wynne hit a sacrifice grounder to first base to move Bobbitt into scoring position. Two batters later, Hannah Lovercheck doubled to left to score Bobbitt and give the Charging Lady Wildcats a 3-0 lead.

North Little Rock got just two more base runners the rest of the game, singles by Parr and McKenzie Escovedo in the fifth and sixth innings respectively, but they didn’t need any more.

Fayetteville’s first threat came with their first two hits of the game in the third inning. But the two hits were sandwiched between three strikeouts and no runs scored.

After two strikeouts to start the bottom of the fourth, Lady Bulldog Maggie Mabaupis doubled to left, but the next batter grounded out to end the inning.

Fayetteville’s one run came in the fifth inning. Taylor Crockett hit a one-out single and moved to second on a groundout by Emily Bengmen. She then scored on a single by leadoff hitter Anne Marie Petrino to make it 3-1.

Fayetteville got one more hit with two outs in the sixth, but never seriously threatened again.

Wynne threw all seven innings, giving up six hits while striking out 11 and walking none. Petrino, Mabaupis, a reserve who only batted twice, and Crockett accounted for all six Fayetteville hits with two apiece.

North Little Rock finished with only five base hits, but hit the ball better and put it in play more than Fayetteville throughout the game. After five strikeouts in the first two innings, the Charging Lady Wildcats struck out only three more times in the remaining five frames.

Parr led the way offensively with two hits including the triple. Bobbitt, Lovercheck and Escovedo got one apiece, with Lovercheck’s going for an RBI double.