Posted Date: 05/22/2023
When the records are reviewed, the class of 2023 will go down as one of the most successful athletic groups to have worn a Mansfield uniform. Right now the salve of that distinction offers little relief on the sting of losing a close one. A really close one.
The Riverside Rebels out of Lake City squeezed off a 1 - 0 victory over the Mansfield Lady Tigers in the class 2A state championship softball game on Friday, May 19.
Yes, that one hurt. For all the successes and all the state trophies already accumulated by this year’s Mansfield senior class, this title, the last available title, was the one the group wanted.
Many on the MHS softball roster had already graduated. Six said seniors walked the stage for their high school diploma almost two weeks prior to their final game of any sport. So, this one mattered. It really did.
Heartaches abound on the third base side of Farris Field at the University of Central Arkansas. That’s where Mansfield seniors Brooklyn Adams, Natalie Allison, Serenity Chick, Skylynn Harris, Alayna Turner, and Seven Sanderson joined teammates and coaches to accept the runner-up trophy of a one run decision no one saw coming.
Mansfield’s Lady Tiger softball team was red hot coming into the state championship game versus Riverside. Since March 17, the team had reeled off 24 straight victories and collected conference, district, and regional championships along the way.
Riverside was good but they came into the title match with a blemish. Despite 23 wins against only 4 losses they weren’t even champions of their own 2A-3 conference. East Poinsett County, a team Mansfield dismantled in the state semifinals 14 - 4, held that distinction.
What they did have was pitcher Klaire Womack in the circle. And, she was terrific.
Womack was engaged in a classic pitcher’s duel with Mansfield’s Alyson Edwards. Between the two pitchers, 34 batters were sent back to the dugouts with recorded strikeouts.
Womack registered 18 strikeouts giving up only 2 hits and 2 walks. She was the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Edwards dished out 16 strikes against only 3 hits given up. Had the game’s outcome swung the other way, she too might have earned the game’s MVP honors. She was that good.
That extra hit was huge. In the top of the sixth inning a bloop single to left field sent Riverside’s Annalee Qualls from third base to home. It proved to be the only run scored in a gut-wrenching seven inning nailbiter.
Qualls boarded the bags with a one out single. A pitch that got away moved her to second base. There she waited until Riverside head coach TJ Eakins called for a sacrifice bunt to be laid down.
Kaylee Cox put the bat on the ball to execute a perfect bunt to advance Qualls to third.
“We got a perfect sacrifice down and got the runner over to third,” explained Eakins. “All we needed was the ball put in play and McKenzie (Thomas) came in and got a big hit. That is just what we needed.”
McKenzie Thomas’s hit was the Rebel’s third and final ball put into play. It proved to be the deciding factor.
Mansfield had its best chance to respond in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs, junior Kynslee Ward smacked a double to right center giving the Lady Tigers a well needed base runner with hard hitting Edwards up next.
Eakins knew the scouting report on Edwards. He gave Mansfield’s leading home run hitter a free pass to first with the intentional walk.
“I do not think anybody in the ballpark would have pitched to her in that situation,” reviewed Eakins. “If we were going to get beat, it was not going to be by their best hitter.”
Mansfield’s all-time winningest baseball and basketball coach, Bill Frye, was in the audience. He was there to watch the softball playing daughters of many of his former players. His take on the situation went even deeper.
“No doubt, Edwards is a great player,” commented Frye. “You walk her there because she can beat you with one swing. It also triples the chances for the defense to get an out since now you have a forceout on all the bags. He (Eakins) knew what he was doing.”
The strategy worked as the Mansfield pair stood stranded as Womack registered yet another K. In the bottom of the seventh, the MVP pitcher hurled what seemed even harder throws to the plate with the view of their team’s first state championship squarely in sight.
“They just got us out of our game,” said Mansfield head coach Donnie Eveld who had guided his troops to their second state finals in the past three seasons. “We had a great run through the playoffs. Great team and a great group of girls.”
Ward, one of two Lady Tigers to put the ball in play offensively, said she will miss the seniors that have helped her grow up.
“Gonna miss these seniors,” offered Ward. “I’ve grown up with these girls the past six years, some even more. The memories we’ve made, the team bonding, the ups and downs, bus rides, blogs, and most of all the fun practices we’ve had. Sad to see them go but can’t wait for the next chapter in their life to start”
Skylynn Harris, the only other MHS batter to register a hit, did so early in the game. The senior sent a pop up just over the third baseman’s reach. It landed just fair inside the boundary line dropping in front of a charging left fielder.
“Our record was 28 - 4,” reflected Harris on a terrific season. “Ended up conference, district, and regional champs. We just fell short of that state title. We had an amazing season that I will always remember.”
Mansfield just couldn’t get a straight bead through the high strike zone that seemed consistently open during the state finals with Riverside. Bat after bat nicked the underside of the ball sending multiple foul balls directly over the backstop.
Lady Tiger Brooklyn Adams had an up close view of the liberal strike zone. She sat firmly behind the plate as one of the state’s top rated catchers. She also manned the batter’s box as the team’s two hole hitter in the batting order.
“Adams can really throw the ball,” described Frye as he observed the oldest daughter of John Adams, one of Frye’s former Mansfield baseball players. “The whole team looked like a college team during warmups. Very entertaining, very impressive. They looked good.”
Adams was no doubt one of the most engaged players on the field. Her fist pumps were passionate each time battery mate Edwards engineered another strikeout.
You could see what Frye saw as the college bound catcher put plenty of zip on the ball. Just swinging it around the horn, that ball really seemed to pop even as it reached the first glove of an infield celebrating another rung up Rebel.
“Even though I’ve played in multiple state championship games, this one seemed to mean a lot more since it was my last one,” stated Brooklyn Adams. “My nerves and emotions were definitely a little high during this game. I was heartbroken that we couldn’t pull it out.”
Adams, like so many others on the team, has had a strong hand in Mansfield High School’s recent successes. Just this school year alone, the senior class of women athletes won or shared conference championships in every sport. They posted high level state results in every sport as well with no team finishing below fourth place in state competition.
In chronological order, the volleyball team won its third consecutive state title with another unblemished tournament run. The cross country team was third in state after two previous years as state runner-up. Indoor track won its second consecutive state title. The basketball team made it to the state semifinals. They lost to eventual state champion Mt. Vernon-Enola in those final four matchups. The outdoor track team was state runner up sending five players to the Meet of Champs. Then finally, the school’s softball squad brought home the runner-up state trophy for the second time in three years.
“Even though we didn’t win, I realized this season was surreal,” said Adams, showing the maturity of a senior moving on to the next level. “We truly played the best softball that we’ve ever played. We had a 24 game winning streak. You can’t ask for much more than that.”
“Most of all, I’m proud of this team and all the adversity we overcame,” the Carl Albert signee continued. “I’m also proud of the underclassmen that stepped up when we needed them the most. I couldn't have asked for a better senior season with the best group of girls.”
The sting of losing the last game of the year no doubt hurts. To that, it’s been said that “pain from loss is inevitable, but suffering is optional”. Review the record, this group does not suffer. They reload for another day. When they graduate, they leave a blueprint on how it’s best done for next generations.