LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Benton Panthers are on the prowl for another state title.
After winning the Class 5A state softball championship in 2021 and 2022, Benton's seven seniors are ready to give it another go.
"We definitely can't overlook anyone," senior pitcher Mallory Crosby said. "Everyone wants to beat us, play their game against us, play with intention, and do what we can to win."
Senior outfielder Emily Reed said they know what it takes to win a state title, so the team has slowly prepared for this time of year by learning how to capitalize in "big game" situations.
"We've definitely been preparing the most for situations when bases are loaded, playing under pressure, dealing with nerves, and staying calm," Reed said.
Senior pitcher Alyssa Houston, who has signed with Stanford, has stepped into a more prominent leadership role this season. She is excited about the opportunity to win one last ring with the Panthers.
"Last year, I could sit back and coast a little bit because we had phenomenal leadership," Houston said. "I didn't have to feel the pressure. This year it changed because I had to be the leader in the circle. I have to make sure everyone feels calm and collected, and that's a new role for me."
Many of the Panther seniors have lived in Benton for most of their lives, which makes the opportunity to win another state championship much more special.
"A couple of my teammates and I have been playing tournament ball forever," Houston said. "It's bittersweet getting to finish with them. It's very emotional."
Benton will take on Sylvan Hills in the first round of the state playoffs on Thursday at 3 p.m. in Marion.