The only thing standing between the Sheridan softball team and the program’s first state championship since Arkansas’ own Bill Clinton roamed the White House is a date with Benton on Friday.
There are no secrets between the 7A/6A-South Conference rivals. The only question is whether that’s a good or bad thing.
“We know every kid on their team,” Sheridan coach Eddie Woodall said. “They know all of ours, too. The girls play together all the time during the summer.
“We know Benton will be tough and we know they will be well-coached.”
Woodall downplayed the familiarity factor, but seniors Sydney Bonner and Hunter Clark think it will make a difference when the 6A championship game begins at 4:30 p.m. at Bogle Park in Fayetteville.
“It’s weird playing against them,” Bonner said. “We know most of them and know how good they are, and they know most of us and how good we are.”
“It’s a good thing and a bad thing,” she said. “You don’t want to be nervous, but it will be fine.
“We know we’ll play our best and we know they’ll play their best.”
To play their best, Sheridan (28-1) will look to Bonner as she tries to improve to 15-0 on the season.
Woodall said the confidence his team has in the pitch-to-contact righty is key to Bonner’s success.
“I think that makes all the difference,” he said. “She could strikeout more, but we don’t need her to. She just makes them hit it where we want it and with this defense that’s good enough.
“She’s the all-time winningest pitcher in Sheridan history. She has 45 wins, and she could have three times that many if I didn’t use two pitchers every year.
“She’ll do a good job for us on Friday. She won’t give them anything, she’ll make them work for it.”
Bonner admitted Friday’s game would be the biggest one she’s pitched in, but added that she’d keep the same approach.
“As long as I hit my spots,” she said, “they’ll hit it where we want it.
“If I’m hitting my spots, they’ll hit it to second base a lot. Our second baseman (Madison Crosby) is a great fielder and she almost always makes the play.”
Bonner said the stellar play of her defense makes her job easier.
“I just know they’ll have my back,” she said. “We just work well as a team together.”
Bonner pitched both times when the Lady Jackets played Benton (20-5) this year — an 8-1 win at Benton and a 3-1 win in Sheridan. She tossed complete games in both contests allowing just one earned run and eight hits with four strikeouts over the two games.
Despite the oft-used phrase about beating a team three times, Woodall said he prefers the position his team is in as they try and win their first state title since 1999.
“I don’t think that matters,” he said. “We actually almost played them three times. We got rained out halfway thorough a tournament game with them.
“But anytime I’ve been in this situation, I’d much rather be in the position I’m in now having won the first two games.”
Benton enters Friday’s game with five losses, but all have come against teams playing this weekend for a state title. Aside from the losses to Sheridan, the Lady Panthers lost once to 5A Vilonia, once to 7A Bentonville, and once to 7A North Little Rock, which they also beat once.
“They play a great schedule,” Woodall said. “They always play a tough schedule.
“Every time we play, we know it’s going to be a fight.”
Clark said the most important thing the Lady Jackets can do as they look to finish the year on a 29-game winning streak is treat Friday’s contest like every one before it.
“We’re not trying to look at it as a championship,” she said. “You just have to do everything the same way you normally would.
“Put your shoes on the same way, fix your hair the same way, and then play how we need to play.”