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Spring Sports Report

by Rick Fires | April 12, 2021 at 5:00 a.m.

Madi Conklin knew she wanted to be an Arkansas Razorback before she ever stepped into the batter's box.

The Fort Smith Southside senior said she always wanted to play softball at Arkansas, so when the Razorbacks made an offer, she jumped on it.

"My freshman year I started taking hitting lessons up there, and after I'd been going up there for about a year, they offered," said Conklin, who is batting .380 for the Lady Mavs. "When they offered, honestly it was one of the best days of my life, because I always wanted to be a Razorback. My family is really, really big Razorbacks fans. So I committed early as a freshman and I have never regretted it."

Conklin signed a letter of intent last November with the current No. 8 program in the country.

She was signed as a utility player, she said. This season she is catching for Southside.

"Just every single season, Arkansas has gotten better," she said. "Right now they have the best record they have ever had. It's honestly the best feeling in the world.

"I know they already have a really good catcher, so they have talked about putting me at second base, but maybe eventually I'll get behind the plate again."

In Thursday's 6A-West Conference clash at Bentonville West, Conklin provided Southside all of its runs with a double just inside the bag at third with the bases loaded. All three runners scored on her hit in the 9-3 loss.

Greenwood rolling through 5A-West

Four doubleheaders, four sweeps.

The Lady Bulldogs are cruising through the 5A-West conference with three league playing dates left in the regular season. Greenwood (15-4, 8-0 5A-West) swept its fourth straight league twinbill on Thursday against Greenbrier 10-0 and 7-6.

Lady Bulldogs coach Ronnie Sockey said his team is playing at a high level defensively and showing more pop at the plate.

"I think defensively we are setting the tone and that is taking the pressure off of our offense," said Sockey, who had a Friday game at Bentonville canceled by the threat of inclement weather. "That and our pitching has been really good. Both our freshman and senior pitcher have pitched well and kept us in games."

Greenwood's offense is built around University of Arkansas signees Ally Sockey and Chelsi Possage, and with good reason. Sockey is batting .583 and Possage is at .400 and both are setting the tone at the top of the order.

But the Lady Bulldogs are stacked up and down the lineup and have gotten major offensive production from other players like Charlize Taylor (.489 batting average, 5 homers, 20 RBIs) and Haven Clements (.424 average). Clements is not only delivering at the dish, but also in the circle with nine wins. Freshman Tori Howard has also pitched well, said Sockey.

"For us, it's kind of been somebody different every game," said Sockey. "We've hit a lot of home runs early, which has been a big surprise for us."

Looking ahead, the Lady Bulldogs will play two of their final three league doubleheaders on the road. The 5A-West state tournament will be played in Mountain Home.

-- Chip Souza • @NWAChip



Success breeds success

The success Harrison had in basketball has carried over to soccer, where the Lady Goblins are 8-2 overall and 4-0 in 4A-1 West Conference play.

Six soccer players were members of the Harrison basketball team that went 20-3 and captured the Class 4A state championship with a 68-54 win over Farmington at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs.

"Six of them played basketball, but three of them are injured," Harrison soccer coach Chris Pratt said. "But having athletes play in different sports is the secret to our success here. We take a lot of pride in that."

Sophomore Clare Barger, who scored 12 points in the championship game against Farmington, set a state record when she scored six goals in a 9-1 victory over Shiloh Christian.

"No. 1, she's just a great athlete," Pratt said of Barger, who leads the Lady Goblins with 11 goals on the season. "She has a nose for the goal."

Elise Bell and Olivia Pall, both juniors, are also top players for Harrison. Pall has seven goals and Bell 11 assists for the Lady Goblins, who began play last week with a 5-0 win over Clarksville.

"Elise is a team captain with a good skill set and Olivia is a midfielder, kind of like our point guard in basketball," Pratt said. "Both are really good players."


Beeler wants better start

Springdale took over first place in the 6A-West Conference with its 2-1 victory over Bentonville, but coach DJ Beeler wasn't pleased his team's overall performance.

Far from it.

Beeler was disappointed how Springdale played in the first half despite taking a 1-0 lead on the first of two goals by Edwin Lara.

"After the performance we put in the first half, I felt like we were fortunate to come away with the win," Beeler said. "Bentonville definitely looked like the team that was ready to play and they had all of the quality chances. They looked like they wanted to be in first place. We didn't do anything in the first half except survive."

The standards are high at Springdale (5-2-1, 5-0-1), which won the Class 6A state championship in 2019 and was expected to be a top contender in 2020 before the season was wiped out by covid-19 concerns. Losing a starting goalkeeper to injury would be a major setback for most clubs but Cesar Rizo has filled in nicely for Abram Cordero, who was injured in the Har-Ber game.

Rizo made several saves against Bentonville and set up Lara's first goal with a long kick past midfield. Bentonville and Springdale players jostled for possession before Lara booted the loose ball about 25 yards into the net.

"Cesar's done an amazing job since he's stepped in," Beeler said. "I couldn't ask more from him."

-- Rick Fires • @NWARick


6A-West sees little movement

There were five teams within one game of each other in the 6A-West Conference standings before last week's games took place.

After last week's games were played, very little activity took place. Those same teams remain in a logjam.

"It's all packed," Fayetteville coach Scott Gallagher said. "We've talked about this as coaches. After the next two games, you might be in the middle of the pack or at the top of the standings or near the bottom. Each two-game series could send you another direction, so every series has become important."

Fayetteville (7-7, 4-4) was the only team that made a move up in the standings, thanks to its series sweep of Fort Smith Southside. The Bulldogs still remain in that five-team logjam, but now they are tied with Bentonville and Rogers Heritage for third place, while Bentonville West and Springdale are just a game back.

"It was a big week for us," Gallagher said. "We hit the ball well and took advantage of some walks. We also had some good pitching with two complete-game shutouts, and those were good to have.

"I've talked to our team and told them to just worry about the next game. Don't worry about the standings, but those are all going to change. The most important thing to us right now is the next game. It sounds like a coaching cliche, but in this instance it's true."

-- Henry Apple • @Henry Apple


Depth carries Bentonville girls again

Bentonville coach Randy Ramaker said the Whitey Smith Relays Carnival is a fun meet because of the unique events that aren't done during a standard meet.

It also gives coaches two different ways to approach the meet.

"In one instance, a coach might want to isolate some runners and put them in a certain event and hope they do well," Ramaker said after Thursday's meet at Rogers Heritage. "But if a team has some depth, it allows a coach to spread out his runners a little more."

The Lady Tigers turned to their depth to claim the team title in Thursday's meet. Bentonville scored 119 points while Rogers was a distant second with 83 points.

Among the highlights was Bentonville's shuttle hurdle team of Sterling Thomas, Paisley Hight, Allison Fernstrom and Grace Shewmaker, who turned in a time of 1 minute, 7.51 seconds despite the windy conditions. Kelsey Ross had a personal-best in the shot put with a throw of 39 feet, 10 inches, while Celeste Puga automatically qualified for the state meet in the long jump after she went 17-2.

"Our depth really helped us," Ramaker said. "Our distance runners seemed to fair better this time. I'm happy about the meet, but there is still a lot of work to do."

-- Henry Apple • @NWAHenry


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