Saturday, April 12, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Bears shut down JHS

Leader sports editor

Though the conference schedule is not even halfway complete, the Sylvan Hills Lady Bears staked an early claim to the 5A-Central softball championship on Wednesday, beating Jacksonville 2-1 and 2-0 in a doubleheader Wednesday at Dupree Park.

That matchup has been circled on both teams’ schedules as the likely deciding factor for the top two spots from the league in the state tournament, which will be played at Dupree Park as well.

North Pulaski also has a competitive team, but the rest of the league is, in a word, bad.

“We knew this was the one that we couldn’t afford any big mistakes in,” said Sylvan Hills coach Mark Anderson. “We should’ve hit the ball better, but we played great defense as the pitching was great. That’s probably the best defensive performance we’ve had all year as far as making all the plays we had to make.”

Defense was especially crucial for Sylvan Hills in game one. Jacksonville got five base hits off Sylvan Hills’ usually dominant starting pitcher Michele Sorensen. She also walked three, giving the Lady Red Devils several scoring opportunities.

Sylvan Hills got on the board first in the top of the second inning without a base hit. Maddison Shelton drew a leadoff walk, stole a base and scored on two sacrifice grounders.

Jacksonville tied it in the bottom of the fourth. Zylah Richardson slapped a single down the third baseline, but was caught stealing on the first pitch of the next at bat. It proved costly. Kinley Burrows then walked, which was followed by back-to-back base hits by Kymberly House and Emily Lovercheck, with Lovercheck’s drive to left field scoring Burrows.

“I wish I had that one back,” said Jacksonville coach Hank Hawk on his decision to send Richardson. “She’s very fast, but I probably shouldn’t have sent her on the first pitch.”

Sylvan Hills reclaimed the lead and set the final margin in the top of the fifth with a two-out rally. At the top of the order, Sorensen tripled down the right-field line and Callie Cavender drove her home with an RBI single.

Briana Loyd also threw a five-hitter for Jacksonville and neither team committed an error. Sorensen got three of Sylvan Hills’ five hits in four plate appearances. She also added 10 strikeouts to tally on the mound. Lovercheck went 2 for 3 at the plate to lead Jacksonville.

Loyd struck out five and walked two in taking the loss.

The Lady Devils got just four base hits in game two to five for Sylvan Hills, but the Lady Bears showed patience at the plate and were more efficient with their opportunities.

Playing as the visiting team in game two, Jacksonville leadoff hitter Morgan Lloyd got a base hit, but was thrown out on a fielder’s choice that left Richardson safe at first. A groundout moved her to second and Burrows singled to put runners at the corners with two outs, but Sorensen struck out House to get out of the jam.

The Lady Bears then took the lead in the bottom of the first and never relinquished it. Sorensen drew a leadoff walk from House, and scored with two outs on a single by Cara Possa.

The game’s final run came in the third inning. Sorensen drew another leadoff walk, but was thrown out on a 5-4 fielder’s choice by Cavender. Ashley Broadway then walked and Possa got her second RBI of the game with a single to right field.

Sorensen again went the distance for the win, striking out nine and walking just one batter.

“She had all her pitches in game two that she didn’t have in game one,” Anderson said. “She had hurt her finger earlier in the week and put tape on it, so she didn’t have her grip to throw all her pitches in the first one. She took it off and just dealt with it in game two, and that gave her the ability to throw all of her pitches.”

House gave up five hits, walked three and struck out one batter.

“The girls were upbeat afterwards,” Hawk said. “I was a little surprised by that. The pitching was great and the defense was outstanding. I’ve been watching the 5A rankings and Sylvan Hills has been up there all year. These girls knew they had just played some solid softball. We have to get better on our base running and we could use a little more offense, but with the pitching and defense we’ve been getting, we feel like we can compete with anybody.”

Jacksonville, 9-4, plays North Pulaski on Tuesday at Dupree. Sylvan Hills, 11-4, plays at Benton on Monday and doesn’t get back to conference action until facing McClellan on April 24.