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PREP SOFTBALL: Battered and bruised, Booneville wins

by Leland Barclay | May 21, 2023 at 10:05 a.m.

CONWAY -- By the time Booneville ace pitcher Lexi Franklin took her spot in the circle for the Class 3A softball state championship game, she was numb and ready to go after a quick trip to the emergency room.

Franklin, bandaged eye and all, retired 12 of the final 14 batters she faced in leading the Lady Bearcats to a 4-3 win over Atkins on Saturday morning at Farris Field.

The championship is the second in Booneville girls athletic history to go with a 2004 softball title.

On Saturday, Booneville (19-13) and Coach Chad Simpson received a jolt before the game when they stopped to take batting practice at a field close to the University of Central Arkansas prior to the game. During the practice, Franklin was accidentally hit above her right eye by a teammate swinging a bat.

"We stopped at a park, and she got hit in the eye and had to get six stitches," Simpson said. "They were hitting, and all of sudden she was bleeding. She got here about 20 minutes before game time. Then she threw a heck of a game."

As soon as Franklin rejoined the team at Farris Field, she went to the bullpen and warmed up, then entered the circle.

"I was so numb at that point," Franklin said. "I can't worry about myself. I've got to get my team that win."

Booneville struck quickly with two runs in the second inning, started by Franklin, who banged a double high off the 12-foot fence in left field. She advanced to third on an error and scored on a ground ball out by Roni Tillery.

Kyle Lunsford later added to lead after singling, advancing to second on a wild pitch and scoring a double by Karmen Kent.

Atkins (24-8) answered with three runs in the third inning.

Libby May doubled to deep center and scored on a triple by Makinley Coffman, who also scored when Adrian Henderson's ground ball was booted. Henderson scored on a base hit by Christian Flory for a 3-2 lead.

"We kind of reverted back to our old ways a little bit," Simpson said. 'We made a few errors. We kept telling the girls, you've got to brush it off. I know they scored a few runs, they were up a run, but these girls all year have responded."

Booneville also answered in the top of its next inning.

Lady Bearcats loaded the bases with the first three hitters on an infield single by Kent and walks to Presley Walker and Layla Byrum. After Atkins got out an with a grounder and a force at home, Walker scored on a grounder by Swint to tie the game at 3-3.

Franklin, who was named the game's Most Valuable Player, was then walked intentionally to re-load the bases.

Catcher Roni Tillery, who was moved behind Franklin in the batting order about halfway through the season, drew a full-count walk to force in what turned out to be the decisive run.

Tillery said it was hard to stay patient in that opportunity.

"Yes, it was," Tillery said. "I just wanted to hit, and hit her in, and be on base. She's a really good hitter. There's a really good reason to walk her."

Atkins had already walked two in the inning, which aided Tillery.

"She was getting a little big crazy with pitches at times," Tillery said. "I was just looking for my pitch. I was waiting on it."

Booneville had yielded one lead, but Franklin made sure the Lady Bearcats wouldn't relinquish it a second time.

"We knew we would be able to come back," Franklin said. "We've done it before. I knew my team had my back."

Franklin gave up a single to Alysa Lemley to open the bottom of the fourth inning, but retired the next three batters.

"It seemed like we had to fight through tougher innings than they did," Atkins Coach Matt Porter said. "They hit it a little bit better than we did. In a one-game series you never know what can happen. We came up one run short."

Atkins also had a runner reach on an error to open the fifth inning, but Franklin retired the next three batters again.

"I'm at a loss for words," Simpson said. "These girls have worked so hard. I'm so, so proud of them."

Franklin finished with 103 pitches, allowed 6 hits and struck out 3.

Print Headline: Battered and bruised, Booneville wins


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