SPORTS>>Badgers off to title game
Leader sports editor
Nashville – Seniors stepped forward for the Lady Badgers Monday night in the semifinal round of the Class 5A state fastpitch tournament in Nashville. Beebe senior second baseman and leadoff hitter Brandi Burkhalter went 3 for 3 and senior pitcher Callie Mahoney tossed a no hitter to lead the Lady Badgers to a 2-0 victory over Malvern and their second state championship appearance in three years.
“The seniors have really stepped up,” Beebe coach Terry Flenor said. “All through conference and this tournament, they’ve all three (including senior catcher Sara Flenor, who drove in the game’s first run) really played well and been leaders for us.”
After advancing to the title game two years ago and losing to Batesville, Beebe was upset in the second round of state last year. The sting of that loss hasn’t left the team, and the starting pitcher believes it has helped her focus through this tournament.
“It’s not so much just me, but the whole team has been more focused,” Mahoney said. “When everyone is playing well I’m more relaxed and focused, so they’re a big part of it too.”
Beebe wasted little time getting something started. Burkhalter slapped a single into shallow left field to open the bottom of the first. She stole second with one out and moved to third on a sacrifice by Chelsea Sanders. Cleanup hitter Flenor then hit a grounder into the gap in the infield. Lady Panther shortstop Sydney Holyfield knocked it down, but couldn’t corral it in time to get Flenor at first.
Beebe pitcher Callie Mahoney cruised through the first three innings, giving up no hits while throwing only 16 pitches.
The Lady Badgers got back in business in the bottom of the third, but failed to score when Malver turned in impressive 5-3-6 double play.
Burkhalter reached with a one-out infield single to second base. Emlly Bass then hit a grounder to third and was barely thrown out at first base. Burkhalter tried to sneak into third, but an alert Malvern first baseman Erin Crumby spotted the runner and threw to Holyfield, who was covering third and applied the tag.
The Lady Panthers kept the momentum going early in the top of the fourth with their first base runner. Leadoff hitter Bree Clayton reached with a walk, but two groundouts and a flyout followed and Beebe’s 1-0 lead remained intact. Malvern paid for not capitalizing on its first opportunity when Beebe went up 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth. Panther pitcher Jennifer Meaks struck out the side in the frame, but a crucial error and a base hit amid the strikeouts put the Lady Badgers up by two runs.
Sanders reached to lead off the inning on an error at shortstop. After Flenor and Mykia Cox struck out, first baseman Ashley Watkins singled to right field to drive home the runner.
Beebe’s first big mistake came in the top of the sixth inning when Mahoney walked nine-hole hitter Stephanie Kirk after getting ahead 1-2 in the count.
It didn’t prove a costly mistake due to the physical gift of height possessed by the six-foot Watkins. Clayton followed the walk with a high line drive down thefirst baseline, a shot that Watkins stabbed out of the air and subsequently turned to touch first base and complete the double play.
“We needed all of her six feet on that play didn’t we,” Flenor said. “A 5-10 girls may not have made that catch.” Amanda Draper then walked, but Mahoney got three hitter Ashley Boyks to ground out to second base to get out of the inning.
Burkhalter got her third hit of the game in the seventh, but didn’t come round, and Mahoney saved her best inning for last.
The senior hurler struck out cleanup hitter Scarlett Riley to start the inning. She then threw an inside pitch to Erin Crumby that appeared to bang off the handled of the bat, but was ruled a hit batter by the umpire. Mahoney then fanned Meaks and got Holyfield to chase the first pitch, which she grounded harmlessly to shortstop where Bass scooped it up and threw to Watkins to seal the victory.
Mahoney finished the game with three strikeouts, two walks and one hit batter while the defense committed one error behind her.
Beebe got five hits, three by Burkhalter and one each by Flenor and Watkins.
The Lady Badgers will play West champion Vilonia at 12 p.m. Friday in the state championship game. The Lady Eagles beat the Southwest champion White Hall 4-0 in the other semifinal game.
That game will take place at LadyBack Yard on the campus of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.