SPORTS>> Bad breaks, great plays sink Badger softball team
By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor
As much as could go wrong for the Beebe Lady Badgers did go wrong Saturday in the fastpitch state championship game. Even with things going wrong, Beebe only lost 2-1 to conference rival Batesville, a team Beebe swept in conference play to earn the AAAAA-East championship. It was the lowest run total for the Lady Badgers all year, but they were only inches away from scoring several runs.
The Lady Pioneers did a lot of things well that led to Beebe’s bad day, and all Beebe coach Terry Flenor could do is congratulate them.
“It was just one of those games where we hit it hard, but either hit it right to someone, or they made great plays,” Flenor said. “We only had three strike out, so we were putting it in play, just not in the right spots I guess.”
Three plays were particularly big for Batesville. In the second inning while Beebe was rallying after Batesville scored both of their runs in the first, the Batesville centerfielder made a long run to track down a deep fly ball in the gap by Callie Mahoney.
In the fifth and seventh innings, the Batesville shortstop made identical plays, chasing down two bloopers that were too shallow for the left fielder, and making over-the-shoulder catches both times.
“They were outstanding catches,” Flenor said. “It was a game where I though both teams made most of the plays they had to make.”
Beebe got a rally going in the second inning and loaded the bases with one out before controversy arose. A sacrifice fly into centerfield scored Beebe’s only run, but Batesville appealed that the runner at third didn’t tag up. The home plate umpire said the runner at third tagged, but not the runner at second. He called her out, counted the run from third and the inning was over.
“He said he was watching third and second base,” Flenor, who had a discussion with both umpires about the call, said. “As hard as that is, for me anyway, to do, he said he did it and I’m not going to argue with that.”
Beebe got its leadoff hitter on base three more times in the game, but Batesville’s defense thwarted the rallies every time.
It was still a very successful season for a team that started four freshmen and played two others frequently. The Lady Badgers finished 30-5, and will lose only two seniors from this year’s club.
“I feel like it was just a general overall improvement,” Flenor said.
“We didn’t hit the ball well until after the Mount St. Mary’s tournament. After that I thought our hitting came around. The pitching and defense also got better. This is a better team now than when we started. There was a lot of improvement made.”
The two seniors are also two key players, but Flenor still feels good about next season.
“We’ll miss Heather Stroud because of her leadership she brought to this team,” Flenor said.
“She’s a great team player and a real vocal leader. Crystal Robinson is a four-year starter. She’s a great pitcher, a great hitter and you just can’t replace her. We feel like we’ve got some good players to step in and fill her role, but you can’t really replace a player like her.”
Sophomore Callie Mahoney, who split time with Robinson on the mound this year, will return as the staff ace as a junior next season.
Freshman Ashley Watkins will also see more varsity time on the mound. Watkins is tall and has much potential, according to Flenor.
“Her height gives her an advantage because of her release point. She’s very intelligent and learns very well. She’ll have to increase her velocity. Of course you always have to increase your arm speed, but we think just some mechanical adjustments will help her a lot with that.”
Emily Bass, Bailey Thomas, Brandi Burkhalter and Chelsea Sanders all started this year as freshmen and will return to the starting lineup next year. Mykia Cox is another freshman that started at times this season and will play a valuable role next year.
Lara Foreman will be the lone senior next season, while Sara Flenor returns behind the plate.
“We feel like we’ve got strong players coming back at every position next year,” Flenor said. “We’ve got some freshmen coming in that are going to try out. We don’t have a lot that have played fastpitch, but they’ve played a lot of slowpitch. We feel like they’ll bring in some solid defensive skills. If they can adjust to the faster pitch, then they’ll help out a lot.”
School consolidation could help the Lady Badgers next year as well.
“We’ve got McRae coming in. I haven’t really had the chance to see them play,” Flenor said. “I know they’ve got some experience. We’re looking forward to them coming out next year.”