Wednesday, March 09, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Red Devils run-rule Harding Academy

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville softball team improved its record to 2-1 in dominant fashion Monday with a 14-4 mercy-rule win over Harding Academy in a nonconference game at Dupree Park.

Harding Academy’s Alexa Golden singled in the game’s first at-bat, and scored an unearned run on a pair of infield errors two batters later. But Jacksonville pitcher Kym House struck out the next three batters to get out of the top of the first, and the Lady Red Devils answered with seven runs in the bottom half of the inning to take a 7-1 lead.

Jacksonville leadoff hitter Allison Seats was hit by a pitch to start things off and two-hole hitter Zylah Richardson singled the next at-bat.

Two batters later, cleanup hitter Mackenzie Rodgers was hit by a pitch and House walked the following at-bat. All four base runners eventually crossed home plate to give Jacksonville a 4-1 lead and the Lady Red Devils’ next three runs came with two outs.

Bailey Holt started the two-out rally with a double and advanced to third base on a passed ball. Brianna Lloyd singled to drive in Holt and Emily Lovercheck walked the next at-bat. That brought Seats back to the plate, and Seats gave the Lady Red Devils their 7-1 lead with a double.

House struck out the next three batters she faced in the top of the second – all looking, but Jacksonville went three up, three down in the bottom half of the inning.

Harding Academy went scoreless the next two innings, and Jacksonville added to its lead in the bottom of the fourth. The Lady Red Devils scored five runs that inning to take a commanding 12-1 lead.

Lovercheck reached base after being hit by a pitch to start the inning and she scored the next at-bat on a triple by Seats. Richardson then drove in Seats with a single and Rodgers hit a two-run home run two batters later.

House singled the next at-bat and Jacksonville’s 12th run came off the bat of Holt two batters later. Holt hit a ground ball to third base, but the throw to first was off, allowing the Lady Devils to score and take the 11-run lead.

Harding Academy’s highlight of the game came in the top of the fifth. With one out, Lady Wildcat two-hole hitter Audrey Laird hit a three-run homer to straightaway center, which cut Jacksonville’s lead to 12-4.

The Lady Wildcats didn’t score the rest of the inning, and Jacksonville invoked the mercy rule in the bottom of the fifth. Lovercheck was hit by a pitch for the second-straight at-bat to lead off the inning, and Seats followed with a well-hit ball to left field, but it was right at the left fielder for the first out of the inning.

Lovercheck went to second base on a passed ball and Richardson advanced her to third on a bunt that left both runners safe. Kinley Burrows also bunted the following at-bat, but no one covered first on the play, leaving all runners safe again and the bases loaded.

On the first pitch of the next at-bat, Lovercheck scored on a passed ball and Rodgers hit a fly ball to left field that was caught. Richardson was a few steps off the bag when the catch was made, but she hustled back and touched the bag before racing home and ending the game because of the 10-run differential.

It was a good win for the hosts, but Jacksonville coach Hank Hawk wasn’t pleased with the mistakes his team made at certain points in the game.

“We had some routine ground balls that were bobbled, a routine ground ball and bad throw to first,” said Hawk. “There were a couple of those – a base-running error. It’s a fundamental fact if the ball’s hit to the outfield and you’re on third base you don’t come off the bag, and the girl comes off the bag about three or four steps. If she hadn’t have had speed I wouldn’t have been able to send her.

“With Mackenzie up to bat, the odds of her hitting it to the outfield are very high and she needed to just stand right there.”

Though Hawk didn’t like the mistakes his team made, there were plenty of positives to take away from the game as well.

“They were patient at the plate,” Hawk said. “Their pitcher was keeping them off balance. She was a little slower than what they’ve seen this year. We were aggressive on the base paths. They stay upbeat and when they do make an error everybody kind of pulls together, circles the wagons.

“They stay upbeat and positive. We had an inning where we went three up, three down and they just come right back out and go at it. They’re competitors. They really, really compete. They love the game, they know the game and it’s really fun watching them play when they’re clicking.”

House earned the win in the circle. She pitched four and one-third innings and finished with nine strikeouts. Richardson led the Lady Devils with three hits – all singles. Seats went 2 for 3 with a double and triple and Rodgers, House, Holt and Lloyd had one hit each.