With one swing of the bat Monday, Van Buren found itself in a dead heat with North Little Rock in the 7A State Softball semifinals.
Then a controversial call in the last of the fourth flipped the momentum and North Little Rock went on to beat Van Buren, 12-2.
Van Buren (23-7) trailed 2-0 in the top of the fourth when freshman Baylor Miles hit a two-run homer to tie the game. It was Van Buren’s first hit of the day.
North Little Rock’s Sydney Parr singled to start the bottom of the fourth and Ashton Bobbitt then put down a sacrifice bunt. Then Lady Wildcats’ McKenzie Escovedo lined a ball to center that Lady Pointers’ Ashlee Deffenbaugh dove to catch.
Deffenbaugh showed the umpires the ball and they immediately called Escovedo out. Parr, however, was already standing on third. Deffenbaugh threw the ball to second for an apparent inning-ending double play. Except the umps ruled her safe.
"The home plate umpire told me he didn’t watch it, even though that’s his job, to make sure the runner (tags) on a sacrifice fly," Van Buren coach Andy Williams said. "She’s already on third when we caught the ball, so how fast is she? That really took the momentum away from us. At that point, you just don’t know what’s going to happen. At that point, we weren’t striking out and we were making contact."
After a lengthy discussion, Parr was allowed to remain at third. Katy Kinnison then singled to center which put North Little Rock ahead for good.
North Little Rock put the game away in the fifth with a series of timely hits. Lydia Belew and Hannah Lovercheck singled to open the inning and Reagan Sperling’s bunt loaded the bases. Kaylie Roberts and Bobbitt singled home a run each which extended the lead to 5-2. Escovedo’s two-run single made it 7-2.
"They never really hit a ball hard in that inning," Williams said. "We just couldn’t catch a break."
Kinnison’s RBI double extended the lead to 8-2 and Morgan Seaton’s RBI single made it 9-2.
"If you would have told me in February we would have been in the state semifinals at 23-7, I would have told you you were crazy," Williams said. "We had a great year, with a number of offensive records, and we have a lot of them back."
Van Buren 5, Conway 4
Tori Stafford hit a RBI single at the bottom of the seventh with one out to send Ashton Sangster home and give Van Buren the win.
Conway tied the game at the top of the sixth with a two-run home run from No. 9 batter Alexa Golden.
Van Buren did the bulk of its damage in the third with a two-run double from Emilee Aaron. Stafford also had RBI single in the frame and the Lady Pointers led 3-0.
Conway chipped away at the lead by scoring a pair of runs at the top of the fourth by loading up the bases. Stafford walked in a run and Rachel Jones scored on a fielder’s choice.
The Lady Pointers answered back as Abby Killough reached home on a sacrifice fly from Stafford.
Stafford, Emilee Aaron and Destiny Moses had two hits each to account for all of Van Buren’s offensive output for the game. Stafford and Aaron also had two RBIs apiece.
Maddie Shaw led Conway with two hits as the Lady Wampus Cats finished with seven.
Stafford grabbed the win with four earned runs, four walks and three strikeouts. Mallory Kirkmier had the start for Conway, but Megan Goodnight came in the fourth and absorbed the loss. Kirkmier had three earned runs with a walk and three strikeouts.
— GEORGE "CLAY" MITCHELL