LINCOLN -- Gravette pounced on opportunities with the Lady Lions building an 11-run lead before stemming a late Lincoln rally to hand the talented Lady Wolves a 12-5 nonconference softball loss.
Playing for the first time this season because the full squad hadn't been available with nine members of the team playing for Gravette's girls basketball team, which advanced to the Class 4A quarterfinals at Blytheville on Friday, March 3, and a club trip on Monday, March 6, involved more players, the Lady Lions (1-0) belted 12 hits against Lincoln (0-2).
"We had to cancel two games last week because we didn't have enough players. It was a little stressful," said Gravette coach Samantha Luther. "I was very impressed. We had big hits in key situations when we needed to, when we had runners on. We made adjustments in the batter's box."
Luther hailed the effectiveness of Brooke Handle in the chalked circle, who hadn't been working out with the team until last week because of basketball. Handle has been throwing on her own but that's not the same as facing live competition.
Lincoln rallied in its last at-bat in the bottom of the seventh with the Lady Wolves' highly-touted Brinkley Moreton walking with one out. Saylor Stidham singled to load the bases and Amber Bryant doubled on an 0-2 offering to drive in a pair of runs.
Lincoln senior catcher Lily Riherd drove in another run, narrowing the gap to 12-4 on a groundout. Addie Pershall singled up the middle plating a fifth run for the Lady Wolves and Luther went out to talk to Handle.
Handle walked Kristen Rhine and Juliet Martinez reached on an error as Lincoln again loaded the bases, but this time with two outs. Handle ended the threat by inducing a ground ball and Martinez was tagged out at second.
"She just got tired. I'm proud of her for digging in deep and finding a way to finish it," Luther said.
Kelsey Pembleton was 2 for 5 with a homer and four RBIs to pace the Gravette offense. Pembleton said she deliberately worked herself up to maximize the at-bat when she went yard with two runners aboard.
"Honestly, I just said to myself, 'OK, I'm going to be mad.' Sometimes that's what it takes, just put that face on and get more focused," Pembleton said.
Coming off a rolled ankle, Laney Chilton went 4 for 4 with a double and three RBIs and Brynn Romine added two hits. Sydney Kildow was also returning from an injury with only two weeks of practice under her belt.
"In her third at-bat she had a nice line drive up the middle to lead us off," Luther said. "Paige Greer had big RBIs. Kelsey's home run kind of sealed the deal. She had great swings, good pitch selection, she brings the heat."
Bryant was 2 for 3 with a double and three RBIs for Lincoln and Pershall added two hits. The Lady Wolves' only run until the seventh inning was set up by Ryleigh Landrum's single. Handle struck Moreton out, but Bryant sent a ground ball into left field between second and third to drive in the run.
Lincoln coach Brittany Engel didn't like the loss but said she wanted the team to face tough competition early in the season because last year they breezed their way through a lot of run-rule wins and weren't prepared as well as she would like for adversity in the state tournament.
"I strategically made our schedule very hard. I think Lavaca [which beat Lincoln 2-1 on March 7] is a contender to win it all in Class 2A and that Gravette is a contender to win it in Class 4A," Engel said. "I want to use these games to prepare our girls and not focus so much on wins and losses. That's my goal this year so that we can grow throughout the season and face adversity that makes us better although it's frustrating right now."