Having just warmed up against Hampton, the Lady Longhorns made their way on up to Stony Creek to take on the Unaka Lady Rangers in one of the best games they have played all year. With excellent contact on the ball coupled with solid pitching and more than one good play on the field, Johnson County dominated the game from the first inning, despite the fact that the Lady Rangers did everything in their power to fight back.
Ashley Arnold continued where she left off at Hampton, hitting a double on her first at bat, and what should have been another double in the sixth inning. Aided by a few Unaka defensive errors, especially at first base, most of the lineup was able to take base at least once with several, like Arnold and Abby Reece earning multiple runs on the night.
Having faced a challenge in Hampton just hours before, it was as though an entirely new team of Longhorns had taken the field at Unaka, a fact that Assistant Coach Lisa Mullins quickly pointed out. Unaka is good, Mullins said. But, this is the team that I know can play when they show up. They have already meshed, it just depends on what team shows up that day. It happened in this game definitely, not necessarily during the Hampton game. Its a difference in the pitching a lot of times. Its very difficult for us to hit a slower pitcher. A decent pitcher they do hit better. Unakas girls had a little more control and a little more speed so we did do better, and there is a big difference between the demeanor of that team and this team and we just fed off of that. If this team shows up like this the rest of the season, were going to make things really interesting.
Ahead 2-1 up to the third inning, the Lady Longhorns held tight on the defense up until a huge shift in the game during Johnson Countys turn at bat in the fourth. Ashley Arnold was the first to take base on a Unaka error, before being pushed to second from a bunt by Abby Reece. With two runners on freshman Jayme Jennings was next up to the plate, landing a powerful homerun hit into left field.
Making her seventh homerun hit in her young high school career, Jennings is rapidly developing a reputation as one of the Lady Longhorns key powerhouses, made all the more entertaining by her quirky method of focusing as she steps up to the plate. She sings, Mullins said. Its normally just in her head, but tonight she was really singing something this time. But, shes always trying to put the ball into play and score, and thats what she should be doing. If you hit the ball on the right spot, no matter what, its going to go. Jayme is so strong, and she has a quick bat. Normally for a homerun hitter you have to have a fast bat and Jayme has got that.
By focusing on the song and not over analyzing her swing, Jennings has been able to keep calm and deliver a smooth, powerful blow that rockets the ball well beyond the outfield fence. Even Jennings teammates have got into the trend, chanting the beat to songs as she steps up to the plate. I told them to do Eye of the Tiger tonight, Jennings said. It gave me the beat, and then I started singing Jason Aldean, The Only Way I Know. Then I got to dont quit til the job gets done, and there we go, the job was done. I knew their catcher, Jesse. When I was in sixth grade I was on a team that was playing with the middle school and when we came down here we played on the same team together. Weve talked every time weve played since then and I felt comfortable with her. I thought if I might sing out loud she might get distracted and make bad calls.
Jennings almost hit a second homerun against Unaka as well, knocking it hard into center field. the Lady Rangers were able to pull off an amazing over the fence catch, but there will certainly be more opportunities for an eighth, ninth, or tenth homer down the road.
When asked if her growing reputation as a hitter was making it more or less difficult to produce results, Jennings explained that it hasnt really changed her attitude. Ive kept it going this whole time and not let it go to my head, Jennings said. I hit my first one in seventh grade. I hit one and after that one I went into a slump. In eighth grade I was hitting so bad that I switched to left handed and be able to get back to basics. After I hit my first one this year, my dad was just telling me to be calm and not let it get to my head, then after the second one he said the same thing. Then we got to four and he was like Jayme its going to start getting to your head, and then we got to six. When I hit those homers, Im not really out there trying to; Im just having a good time hitting. I like to play; its my favorite thing. I just love doing it. Its nothing different. I go out here and play because I love it. I just love everyone on our team and I want to try my best and do well for them.
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