By Rob Patrick
Funny how a heart attack can change one’s perspective on things.
It can be enough to make you consider new opportunities, new challenges, even if it means leaving your hometown.
Debbie Stepp grew up in Wynne. She left long enough to attend Evangel College in Springfield, Mo., where she played volleyball. She returned home to teach and eventually coach volleyball and softball at good old Wynne High while raising her two daughters. Those girls are grown now. Her oldest graduated from UCA with a Masters degree and lives in Little Rock; her youngest is a senior at Williams Baptist.
But, in November of 2008, four days after running a half marathon in Mountain Home, Stepp was running in Wynne and was stricken by a heart attack.
“I kind of started evaluating my life and what I might want to do,” she related. “We ended up having a great season at Wynne.”
In fact, the Lady Yellowjackets won the Class 5A State championship over defending champion Nettleton. But more about that in a moment.
“Usually, you remember the last thing that happens,” Stepp continued. “And I figured it’d be nice to remember that the last thing at Wynne for me as a coach would be a State championship team.”
And so, she’s leaving after 23 years at Wynne, 17 as an assistant and head coach.On Monday, June 15, Stepp was officially hired as the new high school softball coach at Bryant, replacing Lisa Stanfield who led the team to three Class 7A State finals in her six years.
Team Genesis from Bryant Arkansas went undefeated to take first place in the Girl's Fast Pitch 8 & Under, C Division, 2009 Arkansas ASA National Invitational Tournament on Saturday, May 23.The tournament was sponsored by the Cabot Softball Association and was held in Cabot.
Team members include, front from left, Malori Pendergrass, Gianni Hulett, Meagan Chism, Ragan Purdy, Ashlyn Thompson; second row, Allie Dugan, Karlee Holt, Hannah Skinner, Bailey Cunningham, Sarah Hill, Kate Davies; back row, coaches Tim Dugan, Jack Hulett, Donnie Chism, David Hill.
Special thanks has been extended to team sponsor, Ed's Tile Service of central Arkansas.
By Rob Patrick
On Tuesday, May 12, Bryant's Christen Kirchner made a formal commitment to a great adventure.
It's no surprise that one of the best softball players in the high school ranks in Arkansas accepted an offer to continue her career and education in college. The adventure involves where she will headed.
Kirchner is headed to New York City.
Actually, it's a suburb of the Big Apple, Orangeville, N.Y., where Dominican College is located, just 25 miles from Times Square.
By Rob Patrick
It wasn't too long ago, says Sarah Hart, that she was a benchwarmer on her summer softball teams.
But she's obviously come a long way since then because, on Tuesday, May 12, she signed a letter of intent to continue her career under scholarship at Lyon College in Batesville.
High school, and particularly her head coach Lisa Stanfield, changed things for Hart.
By Rob Patrick
After four years with her, Bryant Lady Hornets seniors Sarah Hart, Christen Kirchner and Paige Turpin had seen the end-of-the-year reactions of head softball coach Lisa Stanfield under some tough circumstances. As freshmen, the season had ended with a loss in the State championship game. As sophomores and juniors, the team finished a win or two away from getting another title chance.
This year, the Lady Hornets got back to the State final and, again, they were denied the crown.
Afterward, however, they noticed their coach was a much more emotional about the end. Sure, it was a third disappointment in the finals in her six years at Bryant and she and those three seniors had been through a lot together and it had to be tough to say it was over. But the team boasted plenty of talent for another title run including a splendid group of freshmen.
What they didn't know then, however, they learned at lunch on Monday: Saturday's Class 7A State championship game against North Little Rock was Stanfield's last as Lady Hornets head coach. She has resigned.
By Rob Patrick
FAYETTEVILLE — North Little Rock pitcher Jessica Sheldon returned to the form that made her the MVP of the 2008 Class 7A State Tournament, limiting the Bryant Lady Hornets to just one run on four hits on Saturday, May 9, at the University of Arkansas' Bogle Park. The Lady Charging Wildcats took advantage of five Bryant errors with 10 hits for a 7-1 win to repeat as champions.
The Lady Hornets had captured the 7A-Central Conference championship by sweeping North Little Rock during the regular season including a 6-4 win at North Little Rock with Sheldon pitching. In both of those games, the Lady Hornets trailed early and rallied for victory so it wasn't too distressing that, this time too, they fell behind 3-0 over the first three innings as Sheldon retired the first 10 batters she faced.
The Bryant Lady Hornets know they can beat the North Little Rock Lady Charging Wildcats but, like just about any coach you might encounter would say, it's tough to beat a good team three times in one season.
What that coach might not want to say is, it may be even tougher to beat a good team you haven't been able to defeat in two previous meetings.
That's part of the dynamic as the Lady Hornets and the Lady Wildcats, who finished 1-2, respectively, in the 7A-Central Conference, meet for the Class 7A State championship at Bogle Park on the University of Arkansas campus on Saturday, May 9, at noon.
By Rob Patrick
BENTONVILLE — Lisa Stanfield lobbied hard to get the game played.
With rain falling for the sixth consecutive day in northwest Arkansas, officials at the Class 7A State softball tournament at Bentonville High School, having finally reached the semifinals, were considering postponing the last two games of the day on Tuesday. The quarterfinals had just been completed and the final four teams were all from the 7A-Central Conference, including Stanfield's Bryant Lady Hornets, who won the regular-season championship in that league, earning the top seed to the tourney.
In a tournament that featured a 30-1 Fayetteville team as the odds-on favorite, suddenly it was Bryant in the cat-bird seat.
And having the top seed proved to be more of an advantage than usual when it was decided that the game would be played between the Lady Hornets and the rival Conway Lady Wampus Cats. Earlier in the day, the Lady Cats had dodged the raindrops well enough to eliminate the host Lady Tigers of Bentonville 4-1.
With Conway and Bryant in one semifinal, and Cabot, which upset Fayetteville in a game suspended on Monday night and completed Tuesday morning, along with defending State champion North Little Rock in the other, there was the thought that the games could be postponed and to avoid forcing the four teams to travel so far again or stay another night, they could play at a neutral location in central Arkansas to determine which two teams would return to play the State title game in Fayetteville on Saturday. Having already played, Conway was lobbying for that decision and the chance to take on Bryant afresh on another day at another place.
"For one thing, we've been playing in this mess all week and there was no reason not to keep playing," Stanfield related. "I would've been fighting the same fight that Conway was fighting if I was in their position. They had to do what they had to do and I've got to do what I've got to do and push to play. It was tense. I think it was the right thing to do. And I think, tonight, we were the better team anyway.
"Being able to see live pitching (on Monday in a 12-2 win over Springdale Har-Ber) and then come out rested, and having had time to review my notes on Conway, it was really nice to come in fresh," she added. "We really didn't feel the rain coming in fresh like that."
Yes, the game was played and, behind the five-hit shutout tossed by senior Christen Kirchner and a 14-hit attack on offense led by Jessie Taylor and Kayla Sory, the Lady Hornets earned a spot in the Class 7A State championship game this Saturday at noon with an 8-0 win over Conway.
BENTONVILLE — As is the case for the first day of the Class 7A State baseball tournament, today's games to open the Class 7A State softball tournament have all been moved to one location due to inclement weather. All first-round games were set to be played at the Tiger Athletic Complex in Bentonville instead of half there and half at Memorial Park.
Play was scheduled to start at 4 p.m. with Springdale Har-Ber, the fourth seed from the West, playing against Van Buren, the fifth seed from the Central. Following games were set for 5:45, 7:30 and 9:15 p.m.
As of now, the schedule on Saturday remains the same through there is an 80 percent chance of rain in Bentonville. Bryant, the top seed from the Central, is set to open against the winner of the Har-Ber vs. Van Buren contest at noon at Memorial Park.
Here are the updated brackets:
There are still games to be played in the 7A-West Conference, but the seedings are just about set for the Class 7A State Tournament in Bentonville. In fact, Bentonville and Springdale play each other on Thursday, the eve of the State tourney which begins on Friday.
Tonight, Fort Smith Southside plays Springdale which should determine the fifth and sixth seeds for the West.
The Bryant Lady Hornets, champions of the 7A-Central will play at noon on Saturday against the survivor of Friday's first-round game between Van Buren, the fifth seed from the Central, and Springdale Har-Ber, the fourth seed from the West.
Here are the unofficial brackets: