Lady Lions win state softball championship

Gravette's Bentley Lowden celebrates her home run with her team during the Class 4A state softball championship against Pea Ridge on Friday at Farris Field in Conway. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

CONWAY -- Samantha Luther never won a state title as a player. It took her just two seasons to get a championship as a coach.

The Gravette Lady Lions got a combined one-hitter from two pitchers, and the lower third of the lineup combined for five hits and five RBIs in a 5-1 win against Pea Ridge in the Class 4A softball state championship game on Friday.

"Finally," Luther said with Gatorade dripping off her visor after the celebratory dousing by her team. "This feels amazing."

Friday marked the fourth meeting between the 4A-1 Conference rivals. Gravette (23-2) won all four matchups, including championships at the conference, regional, and state tournament levels.

"We talked all week about how the pressure was on us," said Gravette pitcher Brooke Handle, who earned Most Valuable Player honors after pitching four scoreless, hitless innings Friday. "They had nothing to lose, and we had everything to lose. But I think our confidence and how we all get along really well, and we were able to relax, that really helped us."

Handle combined with starter Sydney Kildow to limit Pea Ridge (20-11) to one hit, and the duo struck out a combined six batters.

Handle pitched a good portion of the season with her jaw wired shut after taking a thrown ball to the face. Luther said Handle's toughness epitomized her team's fight all season.

"100%," said Luther. "The girls just fed off of that. And we talked about that. If you push yourself to be the best, what does that do for your teammates? That makes them want to be the best that they can be. And we definitely saw that with Brooke throughout the season."

Pea Ridge took the first lead in the top of the third inning, taking advantage of a Gravette error and Emory Bowlin's infield single for a 1-0 lead.

The advantage did not last long as Gravette answered in the bottom of the third, and it was the lower portion of the lineup that did the damage. Trinity Burnett led off the inning with a booming triple to right-center, and No. 8 hitter Bentley Lowden followed with a home run to left for a 2-1 lead.

"We knew she [Bowlin] was going to pitch inside and high," said Burnett, who was 2 for 3 with 2 RBIs. "We worked on that all week. So that's what I was looking for, and it was right there. So I just swung at the pitch and got a triple."

The Lady Lions never trailed again after Lowden's homer. Gravette added three runs in the bottom of the fourth, including two on a two-run double by Burnett and an RBI infield single by Drew Madison for a 5-1 lead.

The four-run cushion was more than enough for Handle over the final three innings. The right-hander retired 12 of the final 14 hitters she faced, ending the game on a deep fly to center that Keeley Elsea tracked down to set off a celebration with gloves being tossed into the air by the Lady Lions.

Coming into the championship game, Gravette boasted a team batting average of just over .400. Pea Ridge coach Josh Reynolds, who was coaching in his second state championship game since 2021, said the Lady Lions do not have a weakness in the lineup.

"That's why they are a championship team," said Reynolds. "Their lineup, all the girls can hit. They don't have any holes.

"But I'm proud of my team because no one thought we would be here. We are a young team, and we'll be better. We'll learn from this and put in the work to try and make it back here next season."

  photo  The Gravette Lions celebrate their win over Pea Ridge in the Class 4A state softball championship Friday at Farris Field in Conway. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)