It is surprising to see two conference match-ups against the same team all in the same week but thats exactly what the Lady Longhorns faced against Sullivan East, making the trip to Bluff City Monday and then playing again at home on Thursday. Even more uncanny was the fact that in both games it came down to the exact same score, a very slim 1-2 loss against Johnson County.
Despite being on the downside of the equation both games, head Coach Dana Smith still saw a lot of things she liked, especially considering how highly ranked the Lady Patriots have been. It was the same score both days, Smith began. It was just down to the wire both games. When you have a game like that its the way you want to play. Those are the games you want to be involved with. You dont want one team to be dominating. You want both teams to be playing their best and see what happens.
With the two match-ups so close both games ultimately became a battle of defense. Brianna Snyder led Johnson County as pitcher Monday, throwing out 52 strikes out of 73 total. None of those solid throws actually resulted in a complete strikeout, leaving Snyder to rely heavily on her teammates to make decisive plays both in the outfield as well as around the bases.
The fielders did an amazing job, especially Jayme Jennings at first who made several good plays off of catches from Kalli Sluder at second. In fact, the defense did so well that East managed just one run through the first four innings and only four hits the whole game. A double and a critical error in left field allowed the second runner to reach home in the fifth, but otherwise the Lady Patriots offense was completely shut down. The only problem was that Johnson Countys offense had about as much luck as Easts.
Facing 10 strikeouts overall, the problem wasnt a lack of effort or swinging, but rather making the right kind of contact into the gaps and out of the Lady Patriots reach. The first three innings went by without a single Johnson County hit and even in the fourth the only real contact was long-range homer down center field from pitcher Cindi Eddington.
There was some progress later in the game with Brianna Snyder nailing a double in the sixth and Kalli Sluder landing two singles in the fifth and seventh respectively, but despite the effort none of Johnson Countys runners could quite make it home. Sluder actually made it all the way to third on her second hit and could have sent the game into extra innings, but was caught out on her way to home plate. However, even with that shortfall Coach Smith pointed out that Sluder has been one of Johnson Countys most dependable hitters so far this year. The first game was only seven innings, Smith said. Cindi hit a solo home run but we stranded runners. Kalli hit the ball really well. She has been seeing the ball really well and shes been our most consistent hitter.
Coming up just one run behind, Johnson Countys girls hoped to make it up at home Thursday but found themselves back in the exact same position. This time Eddington took the mound earning an amazing 10 Ks overall, and once again the game came down to who would get the hit first. East led off with the top of the inning, making a single hit off the third at bat but doing little else until the second.
Johnson County was much the same way with Brianna Snyder getting a big initial double but also finding herself left on base. Hitting overall was more reliable in the second game, but this time around the big problem was that the Lady Longhorns always had two outs against them before they really started to move. That left numerous situations throughout the game where there might be two or even three runners on and still left without reaching home.
The one thing that we have been working on is trying to stay focused with two outs, said Smith. Anything can happen with two outs. A lot of times a team will let their guard down defensively because they think oh we just need one more out, it doesnt matter how many runners are on base we just need one more out. Thats kind of the way a lot of teams do but we cant do that. We cant afford to let down on the defense.
East was first to score again, this time off an error in the second. The defense maintained their composure and were able to hold the Patriots off the board all the way down through the seventh. Johnson County managed to answer the games only advance up to that point, when Brianna Snyder managed a hit in the sixth and was then bumped to second off a hit by Jayme Jennings. A third hit by Demi Blevins gave her an RBI off of Snyder, but once again the inning was cut short after receiving an initial two outs.
Now tied 1-1 the game went into extra innings and ultimately ended in the eighth after East picked up a run on a missed ball in right field. With no retaliating run of their own the Lady Longhorns were forced to accept yet another 1-2 loss. Although disappointing in its own way, both games proved without a doubt that Johnson Countys young defense has what it takes to hold their own against a really good team. Being able to maintain their composure even in such a close matchup, hopefully the Lady Longhorns will be able to retain that level calm as the season marches steadily toward the conference tournament.