MORGAN McKinney has been nearly unhittable in region play, and nothing about that changed in the Region 8-AA title contest.
McKinney delivered a dominating mound performance and Emily Holman provided an RBI single as Jefferson (17-14) beat no. 4 Union County 1-0 Thursday in Blairsville for its first region softball championship since 2008.
McKinney — who came into the season following a knee injury last year — threw a complete game, allowing four hits and three walks while striking out 11.
“She’s handled every region game all the way through,” Jefferson coach Melissa Mullis said. “I feel like she’s — with her knee injury — pushed through the pain and overcome. I don’t think she felt any pain (Thursday).”
The Dragons will now host the first round of the state tournament as a no. 1 seed, facing Manchester Wednesday at home in a double header starting at 5 p.m. The teams will play again Thursday if needed.
This was Mullis’ third region title at Jefferson, and first since resuming head coaching duties last year. Her Dragons won nine of their last 12 regular season games and then went unbeaten in the Region 8-AA tournament to take the title. Jefferson didn’t allow a run during the 8-AA postseason.
“The girls jelled tremendously, I think, in a way that we haven’t yet,” Mullis said. “It’s very timely. We’ve just been on cloud nine since.”
This was the fourth meeting this season between Jefferson and Union County and the third decided by one run.
“They’re such a great team, and it’s been close every time we’ve played them,” Mullis said. “I just knew that we were prepared. I really felt like we’ve done everything. I hoped destiny would play in our favor and it did. It was an awesome game.”
The visiting Dragons finished with three hits in this pitchers’ dual. In addition to Holman’s RBI single, Savannah Snapp and Jordan Phillips each had one hit.
Jefferson was able to work its way out of some jams as Union County left the bases loaded once and left two runners on three times. The Panthers stranded nine baserunners in the game.
“We handled the pressure in a way we haven’t yet,” Mullis said.
Mullis pointed to the play of her seniors — McKinney, Lindsay Miles and Cason Anderson — in leading Jefferson to the title.
“We look to our seniors a lot,” Mullis said. “Lindsay (Miles) being our lead-off. Cason (Anderson) she’s a great hitter. She’s a great student of the game.”
Those seniors get to leave on a high note with the region title in-hand and the state tournament ahead this week.
“I’m so glad for them that they got the region title,” Mullis said. “They’ve worked hard. Some of these girls being here four years, they were due. I was very happy for my seniors.”
Jefferson will now have home field advantage for the first two rounds of the Class AA state tournament.
“I’m looking forward to the next few weeks if we continue to jell and play the way we did,” Mullis said. “It should be very promising.”
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