The East Jackson softball team has a chance to punch its name into AAA State Playoff bracket this Saturday thanks to its blowout win over Hart County on Wednesday (Sept. 29).
The Eagles completed a regular-season sweep of the Bulldogs with a 9-2 victory. Isabel Harrison threw 11 strikeouts and allowed just five hits. Haley Barnett led the Eagles at the plate with three hits and three RBIs.
The victory sealed East Jackson’s spot at third place in the Region 8-AAA standings. The Eagles host Stephens County for a region tournament play-in series this weekend. A doubleheader between the Eagles and Indians is scheduled for Saturday at 4 p.m. if a tie-breaker is needed, the two teams will meet again on Monday.
“Obviously it’s come a long way,” said first-year head coach Jerry Boatner about the progress the Eagles have made this season. “I can’t say how excited and proud of the girls I am. They’ve improved, they’re working hard. We’re going to turn this program around. It may take two or three years, but we’re going to turn it around and people will be proud of it.”
East Jackson (8-6, 6-4 Region 8-AAA) started the game down 1-0 after Hart County scored one run in the top of the first inning. The Eagles took firm control of the game by scoring five runs in the bottom of the first inning.
The first three Eagles walked to load the bases and Hannah Williamson brought two of them home with a double to left field to give East Jackson a 2-1 lead. Debra Crowe walked to load the bases again and Barnett singled on a hard ground ball to bring two more runs across home plate. The Eagles were on top 4-1.
After a pair of outs, Marlee Wilkes hit a short grounder to the pitcher for what could have been the final out of the inning. However, Crowe beat the ball to home plate, extending East Jackson’s lead to 5-1.
When Amy Nixon walked to load the bases once again, the Eagles seemed poised to score more runs. However, Abby Wilson’s hard ground ball made contact with Nixon for the third out. Bad luck had kept at least one run off the board. Though the missed opportunity did little to affect the outcome of the game.
The Eagles added three more runs in the second inning Harrison scored on a hard grounder by Hannah Williamson, and she scored on Crowe’s line drive to left field. Barnett brought Crowe home with a double down deep into left field. East Jackson led 8-1 after two innings.
Hart County (5-13, 4-6 Region 8-AAA) added one run in the fourth inning, but East Jackson’s defense caught the Bulldogs being too aggressive on the basepaths and caught a runner out at third base. The Eagles got the run back in the fifth inning via a bases-loaded walk.
“We were able to get the key hits when we needed to early,” Boatner said. “Then we let our pitching and our defense finish. I can’t say enough about [Crowe] and how she’s played the last three or four games. She’s been unreal, defensively especially.
SENIORS REFLECT ON SEASON, EAST JACKSON CAREERS
East Jackson entered the season on a four-year state playoff drought, but it has a chance to end that drought Saturday against Stephens County (2-15, 1-9 Region 8-AAA). The Eagles just need to defeat the Indians twice.
Amy Nixon credited much of the team’s success in 2021 to the comradery of the eight seniors who lead the lead, she being one of them.
“We’ve got to go out with a bang,” she said. “We’ve got to go out on a big win.”
Nixon also credited Boatner as a head coach overall praising not just his softball knowledge, but also calling him a “big supporter,” of the Eagles.
Fellow senior Debra Crowe echoed Nixon’s comments about the unity among the seniors.
“I’ve played with these girls since I was in middle school,” she said. “That we’ve made it this far is really great. I enjoy spending time with them a lot. Getting to all play together and be leaders on the team [has been] nice, it’s been different, but it’s been good.”