Booneville meeting its expectations
There was no way that Booneville softball Coach Ronnie Denton could be certain how good his Lady Bearcats would be this season, but he did have a pretty good idea.
He knew he’d lose only a couple of players from last year’s team that flashed potential early, he knew he’d have sluggers up and down his lineup and he knew he had an extremely talented ninthgrader coming in.
In his eyes, the pieces were in place. He just had to get them to gel.
Twenty-one games into the season, and one would be hardpressed to think the Lady Bearcats could be any more in sync than what they are now.
Booneville (19-2, 9-0 3A-4) has beaten every Class 3A team it’s played and is riding a 12-game winning streak. The Lady Bearcats’ last defeat was to Pottsville on March 18, but since then decisive victories have come in bunches. During its current run, nine of Booneville’s wins have been by at least four runs.
“We’ve got five or six girls hitting over .400, so that’s not too bad,” Denton said with a laugh. “The girls are just excited to be out there on the field every day. They come out there with the mindset to get better and push each other while expecting everyone to work hard.
“They put out max effort every time out.”
Lexi Franklin leads a long list of Lady Bearcats who’ve performed effectively this season. The freshman is batting .585 with 39 RBI and 5 home runs, all team highs. She’s also 18-1 as a pitcher and had 14 strikeouts in the Lady Bearcats’ 4-0 victory over Waldron on Thursday.
There are five addtional Booneville players, with at least 32 plate appearances, who are hitting .400 or better — junior Brooke Turner (.469), sophomore Layla Byrum (.464), sophomore Sara Ulmer (.435), sophomore Leigh Swint (.415) and junior Hayley Lunsford (.404). Two others, junior Joleigh Tate and senior Brooklyn Zarlingo, are batting .379 and .339, respectively.
It’s been five years since Booneville last made an appearance in the state tournament, but if the Lady Bearcats continue to play the way they have, that drought won’t reach six.
“We’re having a really good year right now,” Denton said. “Players are stepping up in key situations and making good plays. We just hope we can keep it up.”
JONESBORO BASEBALL Runs galore
When Jonesboro Coach Mark Dobson says things are going good for the Golden Hurricane, the past five games suggest otherwise.
Jonesboro has been nothing short of dominant.
The Golden Hurricane (17-3, 7-1 5A-East) have outscored their opposition by nearly 11 runs per game during a five game-winning streak, which has them sitting atop the league standings alongside Marion.
“We’re playing well and hitting really well right now,” Dobson said. “I think after what went down last year with covid, our kids have a new-found respect for the game. It makes you grateful for what you’ve got.”
What Dobson has is a team that’s been piling up the runs behind a host of hard hitters, led by University of Tennessee commit Cross Jumper. Jonesboro has scored at least nine runs in 16 of its 17 victories, with its seasonhigh coming in a 19-0 thrashing over West Memphis on March 16. Both Jumper and Jake Henry Williams, a Connors State signee, had home runs Tuesday to aid the Golden Hurricane’s two-game sweep of cross-town foe Nettleton.
“We knew coming in that we’d have times where we’d be able to really hit it,” Dobson said. “In saying that, we also felt that our strikeout numbers could go up because we’ve got a little bit of power, too. But obviously, they have really done a good job. Everyone in the lineup is a tough out.”
The Golden Hurricane have also been getting it done on the mound from several who’ll play at the next level, from Arkansas State commit Sawyer Bentley to another Connors State commit in Payne Brennan. Several other future collegians dot Dobson’s roster as Jonesboro looks to capture its first state championship since 2016.
“We’ve got a lot of pitching to where we have a hard time getting them all in games, especially all the ones that deserve and need to get in,” Dobson said. “But they’ve all done a good job. We like where we’re at right now.”
GENOA CENTRAL SOFTBALL Getting things done
Genoa Central Coach Richard
McMillan didn’t get the chance to bond with his team as much as he would’ve liked last season, but he’s managed to find a silver lining in what transpired a year ago.
“I’ve really gotten a chance to see just how competitive these girls are,” he said. “We’ve got some talent. Just seeing the ability we have at multiple positions. Some of them are a little bit ahead of schedule. But the overall attitude and work ethic. … they’re just a really good group of kids.”
The Lady Dragons, who were the Class 3A runner-ups in 2019, were able to play a few games last year before the season was called because of the coronavirus pandemic. That team, however, was fairly inexperienced with just two seniors.
This year, Genoa Central (10-3, 3-2 3A-7) is still a bit young, but that hasn’t stopped McMillan’s crop from playing like veterans as of late.
The Lady Dragons have won their past five games by combined 72-15, including a 25-2 rout over Benton Harmony Grove last week. Genoa Central picked up a key 7-2 victory over Bismarck on Wednesday to take over sole possession of fourth place in the conference.
According to McMillan, the Lady Dragons are getting ample production from his quartet of freshman Callie Fike, sophomore Gracie Fowler, junior Josie Walls and senior Faith Green. He mentioned that all four have been hitting the ball well but also acknowledged it’s been a collective effort from the entire team that’s put Genoa Central in a good spot with the regular season winding down.
“I think everybody was ready to play from the start,” McMillan said. “They were all ready to get back to a sense of normalcy. Even though there’s still a lot going on as far as mandates here and there because some districts are different than others, when you step on the field it’s been more normal.
“But things haven’t been too shabby for us. We’re young so there’s some inconsistency at times, but we’re all excited to be out there playing.”
GREENBRIER SOFTBALL Still buzzing
A recent three-game losing streak may have done Greenbrier more good than harm.
The Lady Panthers had reeled off 11 consecutive victories and were tied for first place in the 5A-West Conference standings with Greenwood going into the two teams’ doubleheader on April 8. By the end of that twogame set, Greenbrier found itself two games back of the Lady Bulldogs.
“We ran into a buzzsaw down there,” Greenbrier Coach Brian Butler said of his team’s 10-0 and 7-6 losses at Greenwood. “Of course, they’re senior-loaded, and we didn’t play very well in that first one. We competed in the second one, and I was proud of them for coming back, but we went down there, and it was a different environment.
Vilonia handed Butler’s team a 7-2 loss in their next game five days later, but a walk-off two-run home run by sophomore Shelby Hardy allowed the Lady Panthers to rally to win 6-4 in the nightcap. That blast was much needed for Greenbrier (16-6, 7-3), which will have a slew of tough games over the next few weeks as it tries to position itself to make a state title run.
“I never realized how much you build from year to year until you lose a year,” Butler said, referring to a shortened 2020 season. “I tell everybody that I’ve got freshmen, redshirt freshmen and redshirt sophomores because they lost that year. We’re young and taking our lumps at times.”
Butler admitted that aside from senior shortstop Kylie Griffin, a University of Central Arkansas signee, and junior third baseman McKayla Betts, who’s committed to Alabama-Birmingham, most of his team hasn’t played together. Greenbrier also had a stretch where it dropped three of five contests in early March.
But Butler said the Lady Panthers are showing fight, which could bode well with matchups against perennial power Benton, Alma, Mountain Home and Rogers looming.
“We’ve played really well, better than what I expected us to play,” he said. “Now we’ve our moments where things come up because of inexperience. But they’ve done a good job of just playing the game and doing what they’re suppose to do. I lost six seniors from last year, but to see this group play hard and come together like they have despite some losses has been good.”