With a bye in the upcoming district tournament, thus a spot in the 4A East Regional tournament on the line, Stuttgart erupted for six runs in the fifth inning, erasing a three-run deficit while taking control.
But, Heber Springs would battle back to tie the game going into the seventh inning only to see the Lady Ricebirds score two runs then hold tight the bottom half for an 11-9 victory on a rainy Friday afternoon at the Heber Springs Sports Complex.
The Lady Panthers fell to 16-9 overall and wrapped up their 2-4A conference season with a record of 4-2. After Tuesday’s non-conference game against Harding Academy, Heber travels to Newport on Thursday for a first-round district tournament game at 6:30 p.m.
After Heber starting pitcher Courtney Rackley retired the Lady ’Birds in order in the top of the first, including two strikeouts, the Lady Panthers got off to a promising start, scoring two runs on two hits in the bottom half.
Skye Miller led off with a bunt single and took second on a throwing error before scoring when Alexis Ingram’s bunt was mishandled. Hannah Mangum’s one-out sacrifice-bunt pushed Ingram to third then Sam Temple delivered a two-out, RBI single to left field, scoring Ingram for a 2-0 lead entering the second frame.
Rackley worked around a hit batsman and one-out bunt single in the second, eventually leaving runners stranded at the corners with a strikeout. In the bottom half, Heber added two runs on two hits as Sarah Peeler lined a leadoff double to deep center and Madi Fires walked before Miller reached on a fielder’s choice, which forced Fires at second.
Ingram walked to load the bases for Peyton Vinyard, who laced a 2 RBI single up the middle, scoring Peeler and Miller as the Lady Panthers built a 4-0 lead before Stuttgart pitcher Jaelyn Maddox got out of the second.
Stuttgart trimmed its deficit in the top half of the third, ignited by an RBI double from Anna Coker, which scored Tiffany Gipson, who led off with a single. With one out, Samantha Davis drove home Coker with an RBI single to left field as the Lady ’Birds pulled within 4-2 before Rackley pitched out of the inning, including a strikeout.
Maddox worked around two-out singles by McKenzie Cresswell and Peeler in the bottom of the third and Alli White led off the fourth with a home run launched over the left field fence.
Rackley avoided more trouble as Heber maintained its 4-3 lead, which they built upon with two runs on one hit in the bottom of the fourth. Following a Miller walk, Ingram slammed a double to centerfield, advancing Miller to third.
Vinyard lifted an RBI, sacrifice-fly to deep center that scored Miller then Ingram scored on a wild pitch before Maddox retired two straight, including one by strikeout as the Lady Panthers took a 6-3 lead to the fifth frame.
As the rain began to pick up, so did the Stuttgart offense. The Lady ’Birds scored six runs on four hits in the fifth, highlighted by two-out, RBI singles from Johnna Seeman, White and Sidney Barron, whose base hit gave Stuttgart its first lead at 7-6.
With Heber still looking for the final out of the fifth, Barron scored on a wild pitch, forcing the Lady Panthers to relieve Rackley with Cresswell. After Gipson scored on a passed ball, Heber avoided more trouble when catcher Mangum tagged out Coker attempting to score on a wild pitch.
Suddenly trailing 9-6, Heber scrapped back in the game with two runs on three hits in the bottom of the fifth. Cresswell ripped a one-out single to left field to put a charge in the Lady Panthers and Peeler followed with a long sacrifice-fly to deep center, which moved Cresswell to third, where she scored moments later on a wild pitch. After Skylar Johnson walked in her first plate appearance, Miller beat out an infield single on a roller to second.
Ingram looped an RBI single to right field, scoring Johnson as Heber cut its deficit to one but Maddox retired Vinyard on a sharp groundout to shortstop, leaving two runners stranded in scoring position.
Cresswell plunked two consecutive batters to start the sixth but pitched out of trouble with two strikeouts and a hard groundout to Vinyard, who made the play from her shortstop position with the aid of a good scoop by Temple at first base.
In the bottom of the sixth, Heber tied the game as Mangum nailed a leadoff single to left field and moved to second on a wild pitch, then to third on a sacrifice-bunt from Temple.
Courtney Verser brought home Mangum with a bunt turned throwing error as Heber tied the score at 9-all and looked to be threatening but Maddox got out of the jam, once again leaving two runners stranded in scoring position.
With two down in the top of the seventh, Stuttgart stirred up a two-run inning as Coker walked then Maddox drove an RBI double to left field. Davis crushed an RBI double that short-hopped the wall in center, scoring Maddox and giving the Lady ’Birds an 11-9 advantage. Creswell left two runners stranded in scoring position with a strikeout.
Needing two runs to forge a tie, Maddox slammed the door in the bottom of the seventh, retiring the top of Heber’s lineup in order.
For Heber, Miller finished 2-for-4 with three runs, Ingram was 2-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs, while Vinyard was 1-for-3 with three RBIs. Mangum added one hit, one run and one RBI.