PREP SOFTBALL: Craig shines at the plate and in the circle as Northside tops rival Southside

Fort Smith Northside’s Mallory Craig hits a go-ahead RBI single, Wednesday, March 15, 2023, during the sixth inning of the Lady Bears’ 4-2 win over the Fort Smith Southside Lady Mavericks at Grizzly Field in Fort Smith. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery..(River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
Fort Smith Northside’s Mallory Craig hits a go-ahead RBI single, Wednesday, March 15, 2023, during the sixth inning of the Lady Bears’ 4-2 win over the Fort Smith Southside Lady Mavericks at Grizzly Field in Fort Smith. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery..(River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

FORT SMITH -- After giving up a pair of early runs, Fort Smith Northside junior pitcher Mallory Craig found her groove in the circle and at the plate.

That turned out to be just what the Lady Bears needed to rally Wednesday at Grizzly Field.

Craig in the circle retired the final 18 hitters, then she provided the go-ahead hit in a three-run sixth inning. That effort helped guide Northside in a 4-2 come-from-behind victory against crosstown rival Fort Smith Southside in a 6A-West softball matchup.

"We are not known to give up and we always want to fight until the end," Craig said. "I was really proud of that. We got it going in the sixth inning. We finally were able to string some hits together."

Northside (2-9, 2-2 6A-West) found itself down 2-0 after two innings of play. Southside's Abby Estep and Calli Culverson scored runs while RBIs were provided by Reese Robinson and Nadrah Al-Aidi.

That was all the offense the Lady Mavericks could muster after that as Craig controlled the game from the circle. She didn't allow a base runner in the final five frames. She earned the win by pitching seven innings, allowing just three hits with no walks and four strikeouts.

"She is a competitor," Northside first-year coach Amy Walden said. "She knows she isn't the fastest, but we try to keep teams off balance. She did a great job in the circle. Her bat has been hot the last couple of weeks. She has hit the ball hard every game. It was a great night for her."

Craig got plenty of run support late and helped her own cause with the bat as well. In the fifth inning, Northside cut Southside's lead to 2-1 with an RBI hit from Aaliyah Hamilton.

The success at the dish continued in a key bottom of the sixth inning for Northside. After back-to-back outs to start the frame, the Lady Bears reached base with their next six batters.

Jailah Vickers and Addison Foster hit back-to-back doubles to tie the game at 2-2. Craig then delivered with an RBI hit for a 3-2 edge. Eden Davis added an insurance run and made it 4-2 after that.

The pivotal fifth and sixth innings were breakthrough moments for Northside. The Lady Bears had just two base runners in the initial four frames with seven strikeouts.

"You always want to win," Walden said. "But when you beat your crosstown rival, it's even more special. We've had a tough two weeks hitting the ball right at people. We finally got some to fall for us."

The win for Northside over Southside (3-6, 1-2 6A-West) makes it seven consecutive in the rivalry series dating back to 2018. This was the first game since 2016 that the programs faced off against each other while both in the 6A-West.

Craig said the Lady Bears had two games circled before the season started. Both were the contests against crosstown rival Southside. It showed that the game meant a lot with their effort Wednesday.

"We were telling each other that if we are going to win just two games this year, we want it to be when we face them," Craig said. "My defense really had my back in this game. We really wanted this win. We fought all the way through."