Senior Tess Temple, a four-year starter for the Lady Panthers, hit a walk-off RBI single on Senior Day to give Heber Springs a narrow, 2-1 win over county rivals Quitman on Friday.
“We couldn't have written a better script,” said Heber Springs (18-8) head coach Dusty West. “It was a special day to see a senior knock in another senior for the win, against a really good ball team. Quitman is really talented.”
Quitman (13-2) is ranked at the top of the Class 2A and entered the game fresh off beating conference rival Hector, 2-1, on Thursday.
Temple, who's signed a letter of intent to play for Williams Baptist College in the fall, led the Lady Panthers at the plate, finishing 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a stolen base, and pitched a complete game, allowing one earned run on six hits, one walk, and two strikeouts.
“I hate to say she did it all today because it was a team effort, but, boy, she pitched her tail off in the circle,” said West. “Quitman's got some good bats, good speed. Our defense was really good behind her. Toni Bryant over there at third fielding bunts and slaps.”
As both teams struggled to reach base early on, Heber senior Hali Bish, who scored the game's winning run in the bottom of the seventh, hit a grounder up the middle of the field for the team's third hit of the game in the bottom of the third inning.
Bish stole second base and, with two outs, Temple, locked in a pitching duel with Quitman sophomore Marley Johnson, blasted an RBI single to right field for a 1-0 lead.
Marley Johnson struck out three while allowing six hits, no walks, and two earned runs in seven innings' work in the circle.
The Lady Bulldogs threatened to tie the game in the top of the fifth inning when Marley Johnson doubled to center field, Aspen Johnson walked, and, with one out, Maggie Webb hit a sacrifice bunt to advance both runners, but Heber sophomore Abbi McBroome made a key play on a Reagan Rackley grounder to shortstop to escape the inning.
Heber senior Savannah Childress made two plays in centerfield to get out of the top of the sixth inning, the Lady Panthers went three-up, three-down at the plate, and Quitman went to bat with one last chance to tie the game.
After Marley Johnson popped out, Aspen Johnson singled and Webb laid down a bunt single to put two runners on with one out, and Rackley cracked an RBI double to right field to even the score, 1-1.
With two runners still on and only one out, Bryant caught a fly ball, Ericka Hatsell fielded a grounder at first base, and Heber got out of the inning with no extra damage.
In the bottom of the seventh-inning, Childress hit a bunt single, using her speed to beat the tag at first base and bring up the top of the Lady Panthers' lineup. Hali Bish hit a single, advancing Childress to third base after a throwing error by Quitman.
McBroome attempted to bring home Childress with the squeeze play, but Quitman catcher Aspen Johnson made an athletic, reaching tag at the plate to keep the Lady Bulldogs' hopes alive.
With two outs and a runner on third base, Temple, playing in her penultimate home game as a Lady Panther, sent the game-winning hit to right field.
“I'm kind of at a loss for words,” said Temple. “It was really nerve-wracking. I kinda knew they were going to come out and punch us in the face the last inning, and I was trying to work through it. I was really happy that we were able to come away with the win.”
Heber Springs honored the team's six seniors – Tess Temple, Hannah Ford, Savannah Childress, Toni Bryant, Ericka Hatsell, and Hali Bish – in a pregame ceremony.
“This senior group, they just never quit,” said West. “All six of them play a crucial part in our game and each one of them had a role in today's game, whether it was a defensive play or an offensive play.”
Heber Springs ended the week 5-0 after beating Newport, Lonoke, Mountain View twice, and Quitman.
In a 12-0, game 1 win over Mountain View on Thursday, Hatsell, Temple, McBroome, and junior Ashlyn Taylor each finished with three RBIs. Hali Bish opened the game with a lead-off home run.
Temple pitched another gem against the Yellowjackets, striking out eight while giving up three hits, no walks, and no runs.
“I feel like we're ready for the postseason right now,” said West. “We're playing at a high level, and to get that one the way we did today, shows that we're able to win close games.”
West said he expects the team to be a 1-seed at the district tournament.