Tuesday, April 10, 2012

SPORTS >> Lady Lions topple Jacksonville

Leader sportswriter

The comeback for Jacksonville faltered in the bottom of the sixth inning when Searcy scored two runs with two outs on the way to a 9-5 victory over the Lady Red Devils at the Fletcher Sullard Sports Complex on Monday.

The 6A East Conference matchup went back and forth as Jacksonville drew first blood in the top of the first inning with a leadoff run and another score to take an early 2-0 lead before a Searcy outburst in the bottom of the third inning gave a 6-3 advantage to the Lady Lions.

Jacksonville eventually cut the lead to within 7-5 and had two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning when Mecayla Ramer hit a straight shot down the first baseline and just out of the reach of Lady Devil senior Haley Hickingbotham. Ramer scored teammate Diane Parish and then came in herself when the ball was mishandled in the outfield, essentially killing Jacksonville’s late-game momentum.

“I can handle getting beat, and they’re a very well-coached team,” Jacksonville coach Kevin Sullivan said. “I was very impressed with the way they hit the ball. I was very disappointed in our effort. I don’t ask to win or lose, I just want effort.”

Senior second baseman Bailey Mallison was a bright spot in an otherwise inconsistent showing on defense for the Lady Red Devils, who slipped on a number of routine plays that could have made the game much closer against an opponent seemingly equal in talent and depth.

Mallison’s heads-up play got Jacksonville out of pinches in the first, third and especially fourth inning, when she turned a double play with a tag on winning pitcher Mecayla Ramer at second and quick throw to Hickingbotham at first for the out on batter Emma Howard with runners at first and second and one out.

“Boy, she played out of her head,” Sullivan said of Mallison, who did not get to play last year due to injury. “She came back out this year and has been starting at second base for us, and she played a couple of games at shortstop for us. She played, I feel like, the best game I’ve seen her play. I was very proud of her effort, and she hit the ball well, too.”

Mallison’s heroics could not make up for a terrible outing in the bottom of the third, however, as the Lady Lions scored five runs on two hits, two errors and a base-on-balls to go from trailing 3-1 to leading 6-3. Micah Webb smashed an offering from Jacksonville senior pitcher Whitney House into the centerfield wall for a RBI triple that scored Ramer and error beneficiary Heidi Abston to give the Lady Lions a 5-2 lead, and Webb tagged up moments later on a fly to center by Jacqueline Bradley.

“It’s one of those deals where we’ve had a curse with one inning,” Sullivan said. “One inning in every game this year where we feel things have snowballed, and here it is again. Third inning, we give up five. We compound it with an error here or there, or an effort play, things like that. Errors happen, but we’ve got to be mentally tough. Good teams can be embarrassed, and that’s kind of what happened.”

The top of the fifth gave Jacksonville hope as Mallison’s triple to centerfield scored Mailani Walker before Coyja Hood drove in Mallison with a single hopper to left field, cutting the margin to 7-5.

Pinch hitter Bailea Jones started the game with a triple for the Lady Red Devils, and scored on a groundout by Shyrel McKinney. Hickingbotham then walked and made her way to third on passed balls before coming in on a sacrifice fly to right field by Walker to give Jacksonville a 2-0 lead.

Hood was 2 for 3 for Jacksonville while Bradley and Lacey Adcock led Searcy, each going 2 for 3 with a triple to both of their credits.

The Lady Red Devils are now 3-7 overall and 3-4 in the 6A East Conference.

“To put it mildly, I feel like we’re kind of feast or famine,” Sullivan said. “We’re not as mentally tough as I’d like us to be. We could play with most of the teams in the conference – we’ve played with everybody. I just feel like we’re a team that if we come out mentally prepared and ready to fight, we’re tough, but there are too many times where we come out and we’re not mentally prepared.”