BENTONVILLE — Tymber Riley enjoys the introduction when Bentonville coach Tony Cherico yells “Tymberrrrr!” while he serves as the public address announcer during softball games at the Tiger Athletic Complex.
It’s appropriate, too, considering teams often fall hard when facing Riley and the Lady Tigers, who are the two-time defending Class 7A state champions.
“Whenever Cherico screams my name like that, it makes me feel confident and really good about myself,” Riley said. “He’s by far one of my favorite coaches. He’s a big supporter of every sport here at Bentonville.”
Bentonville (28-3) will be seeking its third consecutive state championship when the Class 7A state tournament begins today at Cabot. The Lady Tigers open tournament play at 10 a.m. Friday after receiving a first-round bye.
Riley is an all-around athlete who didn’t want to decide between her favorite sports — softball and volleyball — for college. That’s why she signed last November with Arkansas Tech, which will allow her to do both.
She understands the challenge of college athletics, where prep stars can fade away with better competition and more time devoted to sports. But she believes it might be easier juggling two sports in college than it has been for her in high school.
“I signed with Arkansas Tech so I could play two sports,” Riley said. “It is difficult playing two sports at that level. But during school softball, I’m playing travel softball. During school volleyball, I’m playing travel volleyball. So, instead of four teams next year, I’ll be playing for only two school teams. It should be easier because softball and volleyball will be two opposite seasons.”
Riley briefly played the outfield before moving to second base, where she’s started for three years. She is a standout defender who contributes power and speed to the Bentonville lineup. Riley is batting .500 with 9 doubles, 2 triples, 8 home runs, 46 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.
“Tymber is a fantastic athlete,” Bentonville coach Kent Early said. “She’s able to do things other kids can’t do and, when she makes mistakes, she’s able to correct them quickly. She has tremendous speed and a knack for running the bases.
“Her range is why she’s a second baseman. In fast-pitch, your second baseman has to cover for a steal, be in position for a double play and be able to cover first base on a bunt. She has the speed and ability to do it all.”
Bentonville has grown into a hotbed for softball with Bentonville High and the emergence of Benton-ville West (23-6), which finished second in the 7A-West, but claimed a momentum-charged win against Bentonville on Tuesday.
The Lady Tigers beat North Little Rock 11-3 last year to claim the state championship after beating North Little Rock 12-1 in five innings for the title in 2016.
Riley credits coaching and hard work for making Bentonville a top program and the team to beat again in this year’s state tournament.
“Coach Early, for sure, and all our coaches,” Riley said. “Every workout we do is to the max. Even in August, we had to do these horrible, super-hard workouts. Every day we’d dread coming to workouts and I’d be so sore. But at the end, I would feel really good and stronger. If it wasn’t for our coaching, we wouldn’t be as nearly competitive as we are.”
Riley (5-foot-9) began her senior volleyball season as an outside hitter for a Bentonville team that finished 30-5 overall. She led the team in digs (454) and was second in kills
(351) and aces (35).
She had a little downtime before shifting to softball. Bentonville won the conference championship again but a 10-5 loss to Bentonville West on Tuesday snapped a 21-game conference win streak, dating back to last season.
Riley said there was added pressure on the team this season after winning consecutive state championships in Arkansas’ largest classification. Still, one loss, shouldn’t slow the Lady Tigers, who will receive an early wake-up call for Friday’s game at 10 a.m.
“We don’t really think about how everyone wants to beat us,” Riley said. “We just go out there and try to do our thing.”
SCHOOL: Bentonville High
POSITION: Second base
NOTABLE: Senior second baseman who’s played four years with the Lady Tigers. … Batting .500 with 9 doubles, 2 triples, 8 home runs, 46 RBI and 11 stolen bases entering state tournament play. … Had two hits and scored two runs last year when Bentonville beat North Little for the state championship. … Also a volleyball standout who will play both sports at Arkansas Tech. … Full name is Autumn Tymber Riley.
Rick Fires can be reached at rfires@ nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWARick.