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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Late rally comes up short

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Both schools had been knocking loudly on the door to a state softball championship in recent times.

The Armorel Lady Tigers had lost to Nemo Vista in the semi-final round of the state tourney last year and were poised to take things a step further this time around.

After an appearance in the state finals six years ago, were they finished as runners-up, the Viola Lady Longhorns have been working hard to get back, and last year, they fell to eventual state champion Scranton in the quarterfinal round.

But after the dust had settled on the Class 1A state championship game May 21 at Bogle Park on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville, it was the Lady Horns who were relegated to the role of bride's maid once more, as Armorel held off a late charge by Viola to post a 9-5 victory.

It looked as though the final score would be completely lop-sided in favor of the Lady Tigers (26-6), but a big sixth-inning rally by the never-quit Lady Longhorns (29-7) had something to say about that.

Down 9-2 entering the visitor's half of the sixth, Viola finally found its stride against Armorel's sophomore starter Holly Black.

Dedra Johnston led off the sixth with a single and ended up at third after a throwing error on the play.

Taylor Griggs followed with an RBI-double that plated Johnston to get the Lady Horns rolling. Next up, Heather Simmons smacked a hit up the middle that brought Griggs around to score.

Black got a pop-out for the first out of the frame, but Lindsey Walker jacked a double over the head of Armorel's right fielder that scored Simmons for Viola's third run of the frame.

But the rally was snuffed out with a fly ball and Walker being ruled out for leaving second base too soon on the fly-out. Originally ruled safe at third on the play, Armorel appealed and Walker was deemed out.

Able to catch her breath a bit with her side up 9-5, Black retired Viola 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh to cap Armorel's first state title.

Still, Lady Longhorn Head Coach Jason Hughes liked the fight that he saw in his team, despite the seven-run deficit late.

"Being down 9-2, it would have been easy to roll over, but the girls put together a rally and tried to come back," he said. "With the top of our lineup, it's not unusual to see double, double, double like that. But you'd expect it a little earlier in the game than the sixth inning."

Black limited Viola to five hits in the game, while going three-for-three with two RBIs at the plate, en route to MVP honors.

Viola's dynamite senior hurler, Dedra Johnston, took the loss in the circle, giving up 12 hits while walking five and fanning a pair.

With the way both teams mashed their way through the early rounds of the state tourney at Viola City Park, it was no big surprise that the title game saw plenty of runs.

"I figured that by watching them (Armorel), and then how we normally play, that it was going to be a high-scoring game. The problem was, they hit it early and we waited too long to get started."

Viola started off the scoring in the top of the second on an RBI-single by Michaela Thompson that staked the Lady Horns to a 1-0 lead.

But the Lady Tigers answered in the second with four runs. Cody Wyatt dropped a hit into short left that scored Callie Brooks, followed by a two-RBI hit up the middle from Megan Brimer. Wyatt came home on a fielding error on a groundout by Madison Carr that gave Armorel a 4-1 lead, a lead the Lady Tigers would manage to hang onto.

The Lady Longhorns edged closer in the top of the third, as Leslie Barker led off with a triple and later scored on a sacrifice fly from Johnston to make the score 4-2, Armorel.

But with a trio of runs in the third, and two more in the fifth, the Lady Tigers opened a gap Viola could not close, even with their sixth-inning charge.

"We had some strikeouts early in the game, but we timed her (Black) the second time through, but just never could get a couple of hits in a row to fall," Hughes said. "Somebody might hit one in the gap, but nobody followed up with another hit until that sixth-inning rally. I give a lot of credit to their girls. They hit it hard and put it in play. They just hit the ball hard."

Even though his team came up a few runs short of where they would have liked to have ended up, Hughes was quick to point out just how the Lady Longhorns were able to defy the odds and play their way back to Fayetteville -- a nucleus of senior leadership centered around Dedra Johnston, Leslie Barker, Heather Simmons and Taylor Griggs, a group of players who also experienced a final four run on the basketball court two years ago.

"With what we lost (due to graduation), you wouldn't have thought we'd be right back here again, but those four seniors are the core of the team," said Hughes. "We lived and died with them. They've led us in the field and with the bat. They don't get enough credit in the field -- Dedra and Barker and Heather and Taylor -- but they've done it for us all year long. I was glad we could at least get them here to this game before they graduated."

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