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Tigers quickly romp rivals, win sixth consecutive crown

by Mitchell Gladstone | May 19, 2023 at 2:03 a.m.

CONWAY -- It was not even a month ago that Taylor, the five-time reigning Class 1A state softball champion, lost twice on the same day.

An 11-10 defeat at the hands of Junction City, then a 2-1 loss against Woodlawn.

Coach Courtney McHenry sensed the pressure of continuing the Tigers' dynasty weighing on her team. So Taylor got bag tags for each player with a picture of their younger selves playing softball.

It was a reminder.

"Take a step back and realize it's a game," explained Maggie McHenry, Courtney's daughter and the Tigers' lone senior. "We want to play it for fun."

Taylor had a whole lot of fun Thursday night at Farris Field, rolling to a 12-2 mercy-rule win in six innings against Bradley. In taking the Class 1A state championship yet again, the Tigers became only the second softball program in any classification to win six straight titles, joining Foreman, which did so from 2006-11.

But two of Taylor's four losses this season came against Bradley -- a district rival less than 20 miles west and on the other side of Lake Erling near the Arkansas-Louisiana border.

"When they got to us two times in a row, it was a big battle," Courtney McHenry said. "Other losses wouldn't have gotten to us as much as that one did, of course, so we had to fight coming back from that mentally."

In the four previous meetings this season, not only did the Tigers and Bears split two wins apiece, but the combined score was 11-11 with Bradley (26-8) outhitting Taylor 15-14.

In Conway, the Tigers did not let it be close.

Taylor (24-4-1) immediately countered after Jackie Kelner's two-out solo home run in the top of the first that put the Bears up 1-0. Ayla Buford smashed a single into right before Madison Lindsey's double to the wall in left-center put two runners in scoring position.

A wild pitch tied it at 1-1 before Reese Fowler's bloop triple into left gave the Tigers a lead they'd never surrender. Taylor scored again on a wild pitch before RBI hits by Buford and Lindsey in the second plus another wild pitch in the third quickly pushed the Tigers' advantage to 6-1.

"When they scored that run, it kind of lit a fire," Maggie McHenry said. "We knew we had to score, so the one run wasn't a problem."

Buford -- the tournament MVP who allowed two runs on seven hits -- combined with Lindsey, Fowler and Maggie McHenry as Taylor's top four hitters logged 10 of their team's 15 hits off Arkansas Tech signee Ainslee Moore.

Courtney McHenry had given her team a choice: Bus up in time for their game or come Wednesday night and watch the Tigers' baseball team play for a title first thing Thursday morning.

They chose the latter, but it came with one stipulation: Taylor's softball team had to be ready come their 7 p.m. start time.

That the Tigers were.

"Coming up, watching [baseball win a state title], I said, 'You better come with more energy and intensity than you have,' " Courtney McHenry said. "They wanted to make it clear we were here to play."

It was only fitting then that mom got to wave daughter home for the final run.

After a popped-up bunt looked like it would turn into an inning-ending double-play to extend things for Bradley, the throw to first wound up in left field and Courtney sent Maggie in to score.

Now a three-time state champ, Maggie McHenry could help the rest of her Taylor teammates drag a cooler out of the dugout and drench her mom one last time.

"The way the program and we've grown up, it's a big accomplishment. ... To get to the finals knowing that, 'Hey, you've won it so many years,' " Maggie McHenry said. "You want to be the one to keep it going."

Print Headline: Tigers quickly romp rivals, win sixth consecutive crown


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