UCA softball shuts out Razorbacks

CONWAY – In front of a Farris Field record 2,475 fans, the Central Arkansas softball team shut out the No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks on Tuesday. Kayla Beaver delivered an absolutely dominant performance, striking out eight while allowing just five hits.

“It was one of those games where I just had to take it one pitch at a time,” Beaver said of her performance. “You’re only as good as your last pitch, so I just walked back, took a deep breath, and it’s on to the next one. But I had a great catcher to throw to, a great defense, and some timely hits to back me up.”

Alex Hall photo.

The win, improving the Bears to 28-8, marks the first season sweep of the Razorbacks, pairing a second win at home to go with the March win on the road. Tuesday’s victory marks the first win against Arkansas at home, starting the series in 2021. The Jackson, Tenn., native in the circle recorded her sixth shutout of the season, reaching 15 wins for the third-straight season.

Beaver opened the game with three-straight strikeouts, torching the top of the lineup to establish a tone and a rhythm. She would open the second with another K, sitting the first four batters down via the strikeout.

And though the early offense didn’t produce much, the defense and pitching kept the Razorbacks from getting anything going either. Through the first three innings, Arkansas never put more than one runner on base at a time, and never moved beyond first base. The visitors produced the first real threat in the fourth inning, pairing a couple of singles to move a runner to third base, but with two outs, Colleen Bare secured a flyout to right field to end the threat. The Bears again showed off their defensive prowess in the top of the fifth inning, pulling off the team’s 14th double-play of the season with Madi Young scooping up a grounder and tagging the runner going to third and tossing it to Mary Kate Brown for the tag at second.

The offense finally came through in the home half of the fifth, with the lineup nickel and diming its way to a pair of runs. Bare kicked things off with a walk, taking second on a single by Jaylee Engelkes. Josie Willingham laid down a terrific bunt that forced an Arkansas error, loading the bases with one out. A couple of batters later, Tremere Harris reached on a fielder’s choice, and a tough throw by the Hogs’ third baseman allowed Bare and a pinch-running Bella Barnes to get home, putting the first runs of the day on the board.

Arkansas, playing from behind as the lineup opened the sixth, came out and got absolutely nothing from Beaver. Three Razorbacks came up to the plate, and three Razorbacks sat down after striking out.

After taking the field for an entire three minutes, the Bears went back to work, not satisfied with a two-run lead. Mary Kate Brown led off with a double to left field, immediately putting herself in scoring position. Bare moved the junior second baseman to third with a single of her own. Josie Willingham took a pitch to the shoulder to load the bases, and once again, the Hogs were in trouble. Jenna Wildeman, who scored the equalizer in March’s win, dropped a single to third base, beating out the throw. In doing so, Brown scored, and another error on the Razorbacks gave a pinch-running McKayla Betts an opportunity to sprint home as well, bumping the lead to four.

Desperate to find any offense, Arkansas came back out for one final inning, needing literally anything to kickstart a potential comeback. The first batter came up, dropped to an 0-2 count, and lined out to Brown. Next up for the Hogs came a pop-up to Morgan Nelson, putting Arkansas in deep trouble. The final at bat of the game was against the eighth batter in the lineup. Battling through a bevy of foul balls, the Hogs’ third baseman finally got too far under a ball, ending the game on a pop-up to Mary Kate Brown.

“I think we earned a lot of people’s respect tonight,” Beaver added. “We paved the way to get to this point where this game can be as competitive as it was, and we got the job done tonight.”

Tuesday’s win marked the fourth Power 5 win of the year, moving the Bears one away from tying last season’s program record of five such wins. In 14 innings against Arkansas, Kayla Beaver and Jordan Johnson combined to allow just a single run, and are the only non-SEC team to defeat the Razorbacks twice this season.