Wednesday, April 24, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Lady ’Rabs earn share of 4A-2 title

Leader sportswriter

With Friday’s 6-4 win over Clinton, the Lady Jackrabbits’ softball team earned a share of the 4A-2 Conference championship. They continued their winning ways on Monday with a 9-3 win over 2A-6 Conference champion Hazen in the final game of the season at the Lonoke softball field.

Lonoke (14-4, 5-1) shares the conference title with Heber Springs and Southside-Batesville, who are the only other teams to finish their conference schedule with one loss. Due to point differentials, the Lady Jackrabbits will enter the District Tournament on Friday as the No. 2 seed.

“It’s a perfect triangle,” said Lady Jackrabbits coach Laura Park. “We all had one loss, so when it came to points, Southside beat us and Heber in points. So Southside is the one seed. Heber and us were tied on points, but we’re the two seed because head-to-head we beat Heber.”

Ace pitcher Hannah Murray ended her final home game Monday with a win, pitching all seven innings, recording four strikeouts while giving up just three hits. A couple of infield errors allowed Hazen (10-7, 9-1) to put runners in scoring position in the first inning, and the Lady Hornets took a 1-0 lead on a ground ball by cleanup hitter Mikah Shelman.

The Lady ‘Rabbits responded in the bottom of the first with a two-out, RBI-single to the right-field gap by Jessy Lewis. Jasalyn Truelove scored on the play after getting on base earlier in the inning with an infield single.

Murray and the Lady ‘Rabbit defense held the Lady Hornets scoreless in the second inning, and scored four runs in the latter part of the inning to take a 5-1 lead. Candy James scored Lonoke’s second run of the game, and leadoff hitter Charley Jo Chesney drove in runs three and four with a standup double to right centerfield.

Jarrelyn McCall and Kayley Dozier scored on the play to put Lonoke up 4-1. Truelove sent Chesney across the plate the next at bat with a single up the middle. The Lady ‘Rabbits added another run in the third before Hazen scored two in the fourth, which cut the margin to 6-3.

The score remained 6-3 until Lonoke added three runs in the sixth to gain its largest lead of the afternoon. Murray started the inning with a single to the right-field gap. Her courtesy runner, Kelsey Holder, scored the next at bat on a triple to deep right centerfield by cleanup hitter Katelyn James.

A ground ball to shortstop by Lewis allowed James to score Lonoke’s eighth run of the game. Haylee Whitehurst reached on an E4 the next at bat, and scored the final run on an infield single by Courtney McGowan.

Park was happy to see her team get the win, but with District Tournament play beginning Friday, she would like to see her team play with more urgency to put games away, as well as eliminating mental mistakes that could be costly in the postseason.

“I have confidence in these girls,” Park said. “I know what they can do. I know what they’re capable of, and I guess maybe I’m the eternal optimist sometimes, thinking it’s always going to turn out OK. We have to quit leaving runners stranded, and I think the other night at Clinton we left seven runners on in the first two innings.

“We’ve just got to quit that. We have to be able to put the ball down and put it in play, advance some runners, and get some scores early on. But we also have to work on being smart base runners. That was obvious today. We made several running errors that a team at this level shouldn’t be making.”

Lady ‘Rabbit seniors Murray, McGowan and Katelyn James all recorded base hits in their final home game. Murray and Truelove each had two hits, while McGowan, Katelyn James, Chesney, Lewis and Dozier had a hit apiece.

Lonoke will play the winner of the Clinton/Pine Bluff Dollarway game in the second round of the District Tournament at 6 p.m. Friday at Heber Springs.