BENTON - The Benton Lady Panthers were the rulers of the 6A South conference a season ago, finishing with an undefeated 14-0 record and earning the No. 1 seed in the 2012 State Tournament. With that season history, a new leader has emerged in the conference; the Sheridan Lady Yellowjackets.
Entering Lady Panther Field with a 10-0 showing in the newly formed 7A/6A South conference, Sheridan knew a win meant a conference title with just three games remaining. But Benton, 7-1 in the South, looked to slow down the Lady Jackets. But three straight errors leading to three unearned runs would do in the Lady Panthers, sending Sheridan to a 5-2 victory and a season sweep of Benton.
“You can’t make errors like that with that caliber of team hitting,” Head Benton Coach Heidi Cox said. “We didn’t play our best ball tonight and that’s all you can say. Sheridan played the best ball and that’s how it works. I am disappointed.”
The game raced out to a bit of pitcher’s duel early on. With just one hit through two innings, Sheridan stepped to the dish in the third with the bottom of the lineup due. After a strikeout by Tiffany Easter, nine-hole hitter Lauren Mitchell reached on a single. After stealing second, Mitchell crossed the plate for Sheridan’s first run of the game on an RBI single from Allison Stipes.
Herbie Herbner reached in the bottom of the third on a single but was left stranded, ending the inning with the Lady Jackets still in front 1-0.
Rolling through innings thus far, Benton starter Jessica Franklin found herself in a bit of a nightmare in the fourth. After getting a foul out from Taylor Norman to start the inning, Franklin committed two straight errors in the field, putting two on with one out.
Sheridan’s Madison Crosby followed suit, reaching first on a third straight Benton error, this one coming against sure-handed defender Karrie McCurry at second base to load the bases. Still with no damage done in the inning, Franklin got a much-needed strikeout for the second out against Easter.
With a pinch hitter in for Mitchell, Sheridan took a 2-0 lead after Franklin hit the batter, leaving the bases loaded. Hunter Clark followed with a 2-RBI single, giving Sheridan a 4-0 lead. Benton escaped without further damage, getting the pinch hitter out trying to advance to third on Clark’s hit.
Sidney Bonner ran into her first troubling spot in the game in the bottom of the fourth, allowing just her third runner to reach in the game. Benton’s Korie Parker led the inning off by reaching on an error, bringing Taylor Maxwell to the dish. With Parker on first, Maxwell unloaded on the first pitch of the at-bat, launching it over the centerfield wall for a 2-run blast, cutting Benton’s deficit to two at 4-2.
“(Maxwell) at least gave us a chance, putting those two runs on the board,” Cox said.
The Lady Panthers, however, could not get another run across the plate in the game and only put one runner on the paths in the last three innings. Parker singled in the sixth and reached second, but could not score.
Sheridan added a run in the sixth. Olivia Reed walked and later reached third on a third error by Franklin. Sheridan later loaded the sacks before taking a 5-2 lead on another RBI from Stipes, this one coming on a walk. The Lady Jackets went in order in the seventh for the first time since going three up and three down in the second.
Benton, too, went in order in the seventh, ending the contest in a 5-2 victory for Sheridan.
“Maxwell got us back in the hunt but that one inning hurt us,” Cox said. “That is just unheard of. That is not us. It just wasn’t in the cards for us tonight and hopefully this is a learning experience for us.”
Maxwell led Benton on Friday going 2 for 3 at the dish, driving in two and scoring a run. Parker and Herbner each went 1 for 2 in the loss.
Franklin struck out five, allowing just six hits and gave up just one earned run. Benton’s defense committed four errors in the loss.
Mitchell paced Sheridan going 2 for 2 with an RBI and a run scored in the win. Morgan White followed with a 2 for 4 showing at the plate.
Bonner gave up four hits and an earned run while striking out two and walking none.
With the loss, Benton moves to 7-2 in conference play and 17-6 overall. Sheridan stays perfect in the South at 11-0 and moves to 20-2 overall.
“We have to overcome it,” Cox said. “We don’t need to let this be contagious. We have to move on and get the next one.”
Benton travels to Texarkana on Wednesday for more South action. First pitch is set for 5 p.m.