Following a difficult couple of rounds on the road the Lady Longhorns were back at home in action against the Lady Raiders from Sullivan North last Thursday. A much more even-handed game, Johnson County was looking forward to being back on the winning side of the equation. That said, North put up a very solid fight and took advantage of a couple key players who had to leave midway through the game.
That was a good game, said Head Coach Dana Smith. We had Kalli Sluder and Meghan Walters who left to go to National Honor Society, so we had to change our lineup a little bit. I dont know if that caused an issue or not because at that point they only had one run. North hit really well today and they have been playing better. I told their coach that it was good that your team is playing better going right into the district tournament, because they have a play in game Wednesday night with South.
As Smith pointed out the first three innings were very much in Johnson Countys favor. Neither team actually scored in the first but Sluder was able to get on with a walk and made it all the way to third after a hit from Cindi Eddington gave her the opportunity. Three consecutive catches by Norths infield stopped what could have been an early sweep, but the Lady Longhorns made good on their efforts in the second. Demi Blevins started off with a grounder to center field to take first and was batted in by a huge home run from Kelsey Duperry. Sluder then got on first with an error and made it to third for the second time after Edington hit a double.
Neither of those last two drives resulted in a complete run, highlighting a troubling trend that Coach Smith has been noticing on the offense. We stranded a lot of runners, Smith said. We stranded runners almost every time on the bases. Thats one of the things were working on. Were getting runners on now but we just have to push them over. The Lady Longhorns left both Michala Cretsinger and Demi Blevins standing in the third, but a huge fly ball double down the center from Brianna Snyder pushed Duperry over for her second run of the night to start off the fourth.
By that point both Sluder and Walters had already left, giving Freshman Eden Fenner and Sophomore Kourtney Tolley opportunities to get on base in the fifth and sixth. Tolley actually started a good run in the fifth before turning it over to Courtney Wilson to bring it home as a courtesy runner. Overall even short handed, Johnson County was still able to put in six runs and eight hits for a well-rounded offensive showing. Defensively the success was more mixed, but Brianna Snyder was still able to throw out a full seven-inning win. Fielding was a different story, but even though North actually got on base in just about every inning, the Lady Longhorns still managed to pull off numerous effective plays to keep the Lady Raiders at bay all the way down to the fourth.
That inning came closest to a huge upset from North, who pushed their first at bat through on an error and then went on to load up the bases. Courtney Wilson was able to make a great catch deep in the outfield for the first out, while the second runner was caught on the way to home plate. The third out came at third base, ending what could have been a disastrous turn of events for Johnson County. For players like Jayme Jennings, a short stop who recently had a stint at first, beating North was essential to maintaining the teams focus.
If we had lost to North it would have been a catastrophe, Jennings said. We pretty much knew it was coming. It will be a good thing to lead us into districts but we have a game Monday too and that will be the more deciding factor. Still, it was good to be able to beat them. Ive come back at short. I did get a little lazy, but Im good there. On my hitting Ive been a little anxious about trying to meet my standards from last year. Its not really happening for me but were all just blaming it on the sophomore slump thats been hitting everybody. I played short, but I wasnt doing as hot as I could have been, so I started playing first because they trusted me there, but there is no action there. Its kind of the play maker, since if I dont catch the ball there is no out but theres nothing fantastic about it. Short, you have to stay on your toes because thats such a wide area to cover. I feel better than I did last week or the week before.
Despite the close call, the Lady Raiders did make some progress late in the game. An error and a double allowed two runners to make up some of the deficit at the start of the seventh inning and another runner reached third before the final out could be called. That left the final score at 3-6, a much narrower win than was expected but a victory never the less. With this game behind them, Johnson County now turns their attention a final weekend tournament on the road in Greenville and then the fast approaching conference tournament to end the season.
I was pleased with everything that happened because we were working on some of our pitches, Smith began. Brianna was working on some of her movement pitches, trying to get our moving pitches going. By doing that and our defense playing really well and backing her up that was a good thing. The tournament is at Sullivan North, but Thursday we play East. We lost to them 2-1 twice and Im hoping that doesnt happen anymore.