FAYETTEVILLE — Redemption and revenge was working favorably for the Greenwood Lady Bulldogs entering the bottom of the sixth inning of Friday's 5A softball championship game.
Greenwood had rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the sixth against Sheridan. The Lady Bulldogs were close to avenging their late-inning loss to the Lady Yellowjackets two years ago for the state title, as well as completing a season-long mission after falling at home in the state quarterfinals last season.
However, one two-out bloop hit enabled the Lady Jackets to sting the Lady Bulldogs once more.
Kassie Martin's pop fly into shallow right fell in between two Greenwood fielders, scoring two runs and Sheridan held off Greenwood's last charge in the seventh to prevail, 4-3, at Bogle Park.
"Our girls left it all out there on the field," Greenwood coach Ronnie Sockey said. "They gave everything they had, (but) it was just a few little things."
It was the fourth straight state title for Sheridan (27-4) after losing to Greenwood in the 2015 6A championship game. Since that Lady Bulldog win four years ago, the Lady Jackets have also won six of the past seven ballgames against Greenwood.
Two years ago in the 6A title game, Greenwood took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first before Sheridan eventually tied the score. The Lady Jackets then scored a run in the bottom of the seventh to win, 3-2.
It seemed as if the script was going to flip in Greenwood's favor in Friday's rematch.
Sheridan scored a pair of unearned runs in the bottom of the first to take a 2-0 lead.
But Greenwood (25-6) answered with two of its own in the top of the third on an RBI double from Mariah Hamilton, immediately followed by an RBI single from Paxtyn Hayes.
The score remained 2-all going to the top of the sixth, when Hamilton led off the inning with a double to right center. Eden Hutchins came in to run at second for Hamilton.
One out later, Rheding Wagoner stepped to the plate and delivered a deep drive which glanced off the top of the fence in left. That scored Hutchins as the Lady Bulldogs grabbed their first lead of the day, 3-2.
Greenwood had a chance to score more runs that inning when Harley Terry hit an infield pop which was mishandled for an error, sending Wagoner to third with still one out. But Sheridan pitcher Bailee Bibb, who came on in relief to start that inning, threw back-to-back strikeouts to keep Greenwood's lead at one run.
"To be honest, we always keep our composure," Sheridan coach Tamara Strawn said. "I can't tell you what's going through the girls' minds, but I know as far as mine and hopefully the other coaches and the girls, we've just instilled in them to be mentally tough and to know that it's just one play at a time, one pitch at a time and we've never had any doubts in them; it's just our composure."
In the bottom of the sixth, Bibb worked a lead-off walk and the next batter, Carley Strawn, singled. Lady Bulldog pitcher Haven Clements got a strikeout and a groundball hit to second baseman Angela Price for the second out, allowing the runners to move to second and third.
That brought up Martin, one of four seniors on the Sheridan roster who had never experienced a state tournament defeat. On the second pitch she saw, she lifted a pop fly beyond the outfield heading to right.
Price and Wagoner — the right fielder — both dashed for the ball, but it landed just a few feet in between them. The bloop single allowed both runners to score as Sheridan took the lead.
Martin's initial belief was her ball was going to be caught.
"Honestly yes, because it looked like a little dinker, so I thought right field was going to easily catch it," Martin said. "But then when it went down, I realized it was (past) everybody. It was a little dinker, and they couldn't catch it."
Greenwood had one more chance in the top of the seventh, after Price hit a one-out single. Bibb got a strikeout, bringing up Hamilton, the senior and Arkansas Tech signee who was the Lady Bulldogs' leading hitter.
On her first throw, Bibb threw a wild pitch to the backstop, sending Price to second.
However, Price took a wide turn beyond the bag and initially decided to try for third. The Lady Jackets caught Price in a rundown but an errant throw allowed Price to barely reach the third-base bag.
But on her next pitch, Bibb got Hamilton to hit a scorcher right to shortstop Savannah Sanford. Sanford then threw across to first to end the game.
"We had our senior up, and that was kind of what we wanted," Sockey said. "We had a chance and Mariah smokes it and they make a good play.
"We just needed one more big hit; we were one big hit away."
Carley Strawn went 2-for-3 for Sheridan. Jordan Flora gave the Lady Jackets a 2-0 lead with a two-out two-run double in the first.
Wagoner was 2-for-3 while Hamilton was 2-for-4 with two doubles.
Clements gave up two earned runs on six hits in six innings, striking out one.
The Lady Bulldogs will be without two seniors for next season, Hamilton and Karli Fisher, both of whom returned to Greenwood to participate in the school's graduation ceremony Friday night.
"I told the (underclassmen) to keep their head up, we're going to get there," Sockey said. "We got a taste of (playing for a state title) again and with everybody being back, we're going to find a way to get there.
"But we've got to get back first, we've got to get back first in order to give ourselves a chance."