Saturday, May 14, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> JHS ladies get back to semis

Leader sports editor

HARRISON – For the first time in 16 years, the Jacksonville Lady Red Devil softball team is among the final four teams remaining in the state. Jacksonville beat Valley View 4-1 Friday in the semifinals.

This year’s Lady Devil squad already won the school’s first conference championship since 2004, and is now one win away from doing something no Jacksonville softball team has ever done, appear

in a state championship game.

Jacksonville coach Hank Hawk didn’t hesitate when asked what it means for this team to advance this far, something only done once before in school history.

“It means these girls are getting what they deserve,” said Hawk. “They’ve worked so hard for so long, and it’s just paying off now. They’re just seeing it all pay off.”

Things didn’t start well for Jacksonville. Pitcher Briana Loyd walked leadoff hitter Erin Harrison, struck out Kayla Roethlisberger, and walked Kirsten Cooney to put two on with one out. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners into scoring position, and an errant pickoff throw by catcher Allison Seats allowed Harrison to trot home for a 1-0 Valley View lead in the first inning.

Loyd settled in from that point, and when the Lady Blazers did get a rally going, Jacksonville (26-4) found a way to thwart it.

Meanwhile, in the bottom of the first, Zylah Richardson started a three-run rally with a one-out, infield single to third base. She simply outran the throw on a routine ground ball. Bailey Holt then singled before House got Richardson tagged out at third on an unassisted fielder’s choice.

Mackenzie Rodgers took a pitch off the thigh to load the bases with two outs, and Payton Mullen fouled off three strike-two pitches before drawing an RBI walk to tie the game.

Loyd then hit a two-RBI single into shallow center field to put the Lady Devils up for good.

The game’s only other run came in the bottom of the second. Seats hit a one-out double off the wall in center field and Richardson brought her around with a single to center.

Richardson, Loyd and Holt each had two base hits to lead Jacksonville’s seven-base hit game.

Loyd threw five innings plus one batter, finishing with only two hits allowed, seven strikeouts, four walks and no earned runs.

Kym House replaced her on the mound and gave up three hits over the final two innings with three strikeouts and no walks.

Valley View (18-9) got a leadoff single to start the seventh inning, but Seats picked Allison Fowler off at first base. It proved a huge play because Alye Freeman then singled to left. House then struck out nine-hole hitter Kiri Wood and leadoff hitter Harrison to seal the victory.

“We’ve made incredible defensive plays in this tournament just when we needed them,” Hawk said. “They’re coming through in the clutch when they have to. Payton Mullen has made some ESPN highlight plays out there in center. And I don’t think we’ve played our best. We hit a lull with the bats today. We can hit up and down the lineup. If we can put it all together we’ll go play some more.”

Dominant pitching early, stellar defense late and just enough hitting in the middle led the Jacksonville softball team to a 2-0 win over Maumelle in Thursday’s first-round game. Maumelle is owner of one of Jacksonville’s four defeats, a wild 14-11 final back on March 17. The Lady Red Devils only managed four base hits the entire game Thursday, but two of them came in the third inning and Jacksonville got both base runners across the plate. House also allowed just four hits by Maumelle, and earned the complete game shutout.

In the bottom of the third, Seats started the inning by drilling a double to the wall in center field. Richardson’s sacrifice bunt turned into a bunt single. Jacksonville pulled off a double steal before a passed ball allowed Seats to score the game’s first run.

With one out and Richardson on third, House hit a fly ball deep to center that drove in Richardson for the game’s second and final run.

Jacksonville got two runners on base in the fourth and fifth innings, but couldn’t capitalize.

In the top of the seventh, Maumelle’s five-hole hitter drilled a line drive to center field, where Mullen made a running, leaping catch almost against the wall for the first out. Mullen’s catch proved an even bigger play when the next batter singled to left. The Lady Devils were a split second late on turning a game-ending double play on the next at-bat, but House finished it off with a three-pitch strikeout to seal the victory.

House finished with nine strikeouts and no walks. She struck out the side in order in the first inning and fanned six of the first eight batters she faced.

Bailey Holt got both of Jacksonville’s two other hits in the game to finish 2 for 3 at the plate.