When the regional softball matchup for Booneville became known, it seemed as if all eyes would be on the pitchers. Both Booneville’s Whitney Tatum and Gravette’s Cally Kildow had struck out over 200 batters going into the game, and it appeared the game last Friday might turn on defense behind the two pitchers whenever a batter was able to put the ball in play.
This turned out to be the case, as all runs scored in the game were unearned. In the end, it was Gravette’s defense that was better on the day in Dover, and the Lady Lions ended the season for the LadyCats with a 4-1 victory.
Still, coach Ronnie Denton was extremely pleased with their effort, not just in the game but through the season. “We were competitive in all but the first game,” he said, adding that it took a while for the lineup to get settled. “Once we did, we could play with anyone,” added Denton.
The LadyCats finished with a 15-9 record on the season and continued the team’s run of regional tournaments to five in a row.
Gravette 4 LadyCats 1
The LadyCats quickly took an early lead, with Mariah Reagan leading off with an infield single. A wild pitch advanced courtesy runner Kasidey Thompson to second and Whitney Tatum then hit a fly to left that was dropped, enabling Thompson to cross the plate. Tatum started strongly in the circle, getting two strikeouts in the first inning.
But her opposite number for the Lady Lions, freshman Cally Kildow, struck out the side on nine pitches in the second and Gravette answered in their half of the inning. Sumer Kaba led off with a single and the ball got past Bailey Denton for a two-base error. Hannah Cole delivered a suicide squeeze to score the run. Gravette also threatened in the third, but this time Tatum got Kaba to ground out to Shelby Posey at short with runners at second and third.
The Lady Lions got their big inning in the fourth. Cole led off with a single and advanced on a wild pitch. Tatum struck out Jaki Chalk, but walked the next two batters. Emily Ellis then hit a grounder that Jessica Parrish couldn’t handle and the Lady Lions had the lead. Kildow then singled in a run and a Gabby Curtis grounder was booted, making it 4-1.
Tatum singled to lead off the sixth but was left there and after she retired GHS in order, the LadyCats had one last chance. With one out in the seventh, Denton slashed a single to right field. She was forced by AshLeah Craig and Hannah Gregory then struck out, but the ball had bounced and Gravette, thinking it was over, rolled it to the circle, enabling Gregory to take first base and bringing the tying run to the plate. Kildow, a University of Arkansas verbal commit, ended the game by striking out Olivia Tomlin.
Reagan was 2-for-3, with Tatum and Denton getting the other hits. Otherwise, Booneville was largely controlled by Kildow, who struck out 15. Tatum only gave up five hits and struck out nine, giving her 237 for the season. But errors at critical junctures denied the LadyCats the win.
Booneville exceeded the expectations of many people this past season. Whitney Tatum and Mariah Reagan were the backbone of the team, with each hitting well over .400. Tatum hit five home runs and drove in 25 runs while striking out 237 batters; Reagan, while not getting many RBIs, ended as the leadoff hitter, setting the table for the hitters below to drive in runs.
The third senior, AshLeah Craig, ended with a batting average just below .300. But when the chips were down, Craig was clutch, hitting a whopping .600 with runners in scoring position. She finished second on the team in RBIs with 23.
Beth Wilkinson was a very pleasant surprise this season. A junior who was a pinch-runner last season, Wilkinson turned up her batting skills, finishing with an average around .350, and her fielding got better as time progressed. Bailey Denton got off to a very fast start and while her batting tailed off toward the end, her fielding remained a plus. Olivia Tomlin played a solid first base this season and had her moments batting as well.
But the other key to Booneville’s success was the fact that the four freshmen that started grew up in a hurry. Shelby Posey, playing a position—shortstop—she had never played before, turned in a very good effort in the field, while hitting around .360 with the other two LadyCat home runs of the season. Baylee Moses, sidelined the first few games with an injury, was very impressive when healthy, turning in a .300 batting average and playing an excellent center field. Hannah Gregory played both left and right field and ended the season as the designated player, while Jessica Parrish did quite well at second base.
The three seniors will be missed, but continued exciting times lie ahead; the eighth-graders who will move up to be freshmen are very talented. Booneville will not lack for pitching next season as Jadyn Hart is expected to take over in the circle. A catcher will have to be found and coach Denton tried several candidates during JV games this past season. Regardless, the coming years appear that they will be very fun to watch.