HARTWELL – In front of an electric and passionate crowd at Hart County, Isabel Harrison turned in a miraculous pitching performance to lead East Jackson to its first Region 8-AAA win of the season.
Harrison blocked out the roars and cheers from the Hart County contingent to strikeout 13 batters, while only allowing one walk, six hits and two earned runs. Her big night led the Eagles to a 6-5 comeback victory in eight innings.
Her poise was most evident in the bottom of the eighth inning. After allowing her first walk of the game to the leadoff batter, Hart County moved the tying runner to second base with a sacrifice bunt. Harrison responded by striking out the next two batters to end the game. She and the rest of the Eagles erupted after the last strikeout.
Hannah Williamson hugged Harrison in the middle of the infield before Debra Crow arrived to lift her in the air. Amy Nixon threw her hands in the air when she returned to the dugout. East Jackson has had its struggles early in the year and it had some struggles during Thursday's game, but new head coach Jerry Boatner believed in his squad and work they've put in since the offseason.
"I'm proud of these girls, it's seemed like nothing has gone right for us this year," Boatner said. "Every game we've played we've had one bad inning where we give a team five or six outs. The same thing happened tonight but we were able to come back. I can't say enough about the girls in the dugout with the energy and enthusiasm they had, and the fans got into to it too. I can't say enough good things about all of this.
"Isabel is always going to keep us in the game. She's a tremendous asset to our program. I'm just excited. Nobody knows what all we've put into this. You reap what you sow. I told those girls, something good is going to happen because we work hard. I can't say enough about how hard they have worked. We're going to turn this program around."
Harrison's impact extended to the batters box as well. She hit a triple in the first inning to bring home Abby Wilson who walked to start the game. Harrison had a chance to extend East Jackson's 1-0 lead, but she was called out at home plate on a fielders choice.
Hart County (2-6, 1-1 Region 8-AAA) tied the game with a triple and a fielder's choice in the bottom of the first inning, but that was all Harrison allowed until the fourth inning. She retired the next nine batters, including five-straight via strikeouts in the second and third innings.
While she shut the Bulldogs down, East Jackson (2-2, 1-1 region 8-AAA) squandered opportunities to break the game open. In the top of the third, three walks loaded the bases for Williamson. However, a mixup on the base paths led to Avery Pulliam getting tagged out short of home plate. In the fourth inning with runners at the corners with one out, the Eagles hit into a double-play.
The Bulldogs capitalized in the bottom of the fourth inning by piling on four runs to take a 5-1 lead. Only one of those runs were earned as East Jackson committed four errors in the inning.
The Eagles started clawing into Hart Count's lead in the top of the fifth. Pulliam and Wilson walked to start in the inning and Nixon brought Pulliam home with a single into center field. The Eagles had a chance to do more damage with one out and two runners in scoring position later in the inning. Crowe hit a sacrifice fly ball and Wilson ran home. However, the umpires didn't believe she tagged up, so she was called out when Hart County tagged third base. Despite two runners crossing home plate, East Jackson still trailed 5-2.
After a scoreless sixth inning, East Jackson was down to its last chance in the top of the seventh inning. Nixon hit a one-out double and reached third on Harrison's hard ground ball. An error at first base sent Nixon home and Harrison to second base, cutting the score 5-3.
Later in the inning with two outs and runners at the corners, Haley Barnett hit a hard ground ball to the shortstop. She struggled to field the ball and a bad throw to first allowed Harrison to score, cutting the score to 5-4. Marlee Wilkes followed with a hard grounder of her own to third base and another error brought Williamson home for the game-tying run.
The Eagles finally regained the lead in the eighth inning. Pulliam and Wilson walked, then moved into scoring position on Nixon's sacrifice bun. A sacrifice fly by Harrison brought Pulliam home to score the game-winning run.
"Everyday we talk about mental toughness," Boatner said. "Mental toughness is about when you let a bad situation effect your play for the rest of the game. That's been a big problem all year, we'll have a bad play and fall to pieces. But tonight we were able to come back. It takes one or two good plays to come back. We came back and were able to win."
East Jackson continues region play on Tuesday (August 31) when it travels to Stephens County.