LAWRENCEVILLE – Home runs by Whitney Hulsey and Peri Foster were just two of many highlights Jackson County produced, and needed, to defeat Mountain View and Cambridge on Saturday, August 7.
Hulsey hit a walk-off homer to defeat Mountain View 3-2 in the Panthers’ first game of the day. Pitcher Maliah Lee worked all seven innings and struck out 14 batters while allowing just one hit.
The Panthers ended the day with a 10-6 win over Cambridge in extra innings. Jackson County entered the seventh inning down 5-4 and hope seemed lost when Foster went to the plate with two outs and empty bases. Her game-tying home run to center field re-energized the Panther offense for an eighth-inning rally.
“They showed true grit,” said head coach Kristin Croteau. “It’s heart. Everyone plays with all of their heart. They never gave up. They knew if they believed in each other, they could get the job done.
“Maliah was lights out. She took control, she did great, we couldn’t be more proud of her. With our at-bats, just getting the key hits and working together… It was contagious, taking the extra bases and capitalizing on mistakes… It’s a great start, I’m so proud of these girls.”
Jackson County (2-0, 0-0 region 8-AAAAA) stays on the road this week with a trip to Winder-Barrow on Wednesday, August 11.
The first game at the new Jackson County High School field is against Lanier on Monday, August 16.
Jackson County 3, Mountain View 2
The Panthers got the better of Mountain View in a great pitcher’s duel. Lee was stellar in her 2021 debut, throwing 14 strikeouts and allowing just one hit. Neither of Mountain View’s two runs was earned.
From the opposing dugout, Ahamri Braden struck out eight batters and allowed five hits to keep her squad in the game.
Both pitchers managed to get out of multiple jams. Hulsey hit a two-out single in her first at-bat and Mikala Rodgers followed with a walk to put a runner in scoring position. Braden struck out Foster to end the inning.
Lee walked a pair of batters with one out in the second inning, but she needed just five pitches to strand both runners. In the bottom half of the inning, Lee reached on an error and cruised to second base on Blayne Dowdie’s shallow single. Braden ended the inning by striking out Jackson County’s next two batters.
The Panthers drew first blood in the third inning when Marley Grounds scored on a ground ball by Foster. Riley Skinner hit a single into left field on the next pitch to send Rodgers home.
Jackson County led 2-0 and had a chance to break the game open when Hulsey and Rodgers walked in the fifth inning with one out. However, Braden struck out Foster again, while Skinner lined out to end the inning.
Mountain View capitalized in the top of the sixth inning with a two-out rally. Lee made her only mistake of the day, an error against the leadoff batter. She retired the next two, but the Bears made her pay with a double to center field. Another error, this time by shortstop Kylen Hewell allowed the tying run to cross home plate.
The rally put Lee’s great performance in jeopardy, but Hulsey rewarded her pitcher with the walk-off home run
“In the last inning, I knew it came down to ultimately me to get the go-ahead run,” Hulsey said. “On that first pitch, I said ‘I don’t care where it’s at, I’m swinging.’ I honestly didn’t think it was over, I just thought I had a really good gapper.
“[Lee] was unbelievable on the mound. I was so proud of her for the grit she had coming off those big games in Oklahoma. It was a good feeling to get the go-ahead and win it for her. It felt like a relief going around the bases.”
Jackson County 10, Cambridge 6
The seventh inning of the Panthers’ game against Cambridge was a roller coaster.
Jackson County entered the inning down 5-4, seven pitches later they were down to their last out with Foster coming to the plate. After missing on her first two swings, she connected on the third, blasting the ball beyond the center field fence for a game-tying run.
“I was just thinking ‘all you need to do is get on base,’” Foster said. “‘Let the person behind me move me in.’ Once that ball hit, I didn’t think it was gone, but it got enough air to get over. I’m very proud of how we came back and how we continued to play.”
However, the ride was far from over. Brownlee, in her fourth inning of relief work, walked the first batter and made a bad throw trying to retire the second. The game-winning run crossed home plate, but when the ball got stuck underneath a fence, the runner returned to third base.
Brownlee made the most of her second chance with help from Dowdie who after snatching a pop fly in center field, launched the ball to catcher Raeghan Thompson catching the leading runner between home and third base. The Panther infield made the out to finish the double-play. The next batter hit an infield fly out to send the game to extra innings.
The eighth inning was all Jackson County. Hulsey started on second base, ran to third on Rodgers’ sacrifice bunt and scored the eventual game-winner on Thompson’s double to left field. But the Panthers weren’t done yet.
Brownlee doubled to deep center field, sending Dowdie and courtesy runner Sierra Townley home, extending the lead to 8-5. Grounds put the game out of reach with a double of her own to score Brownlee and Madelyn Losquadro. Jackson County led 10-5.
“After that home run, our energy was much better,” Foster said. “We came back, we wanted to win it. We stayed loud and stayed proud to be who we are, and worked hard together.”
Cambridge started with a runner on second base and the runner eventually scored on a sacrifice fly, but the Panthers just focused on the three outs. Brownlee shut down Bears’ offense to end the game.
The opening innings supplied just as much drama as the last two innings. The Panthers took an early 2-0 lead in the first inning via an RBI single by Hulsey and a wild pitch which brought Foster home.
Cambridge responded in the bottom half of the inning thanks to an error and a dropped third strike, the latter happening with two outs. The Bears made the Panthers pay for the mistakes with a two-RBI single into left field, tying the game at 2-2.
Jackson County regained a 3-2 lead in the second inning when Maegan Brownlee scored on Hewell’s bunt. Cambridge tied the game at 3-3 with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning. Hulsey scored on a Raeghan Thompson single in the third inning to put the Panthers back on top. Rodgers walked three batters in the bottom of the third inning, but a pair of pop flies caught by Brownlee stranded the runners.
Brownlee took over pitching duties in the fourth inning and her start was rocky. She loaded the bases on two singles and a walk with just one out. A line drive into left field brought the game-tying run home, but a good throw by Losaquro held up the rest of the runners.
A wild pitch allowed Cambridge to take a 5-4 lead, with one out of two runners in scoring position. Brownlee recovered just in time to strike out the next two batters and preserving the one-score game.
Around the Region
Clarke Central: The Gladiators opened the season by beating cross-two rival Cedar Shoals 17-5 on Friday, August 6
Apalachee: The Wildcats are off to a 2-2 start to 2021. They split a pair of games on Saturday, beating Effingham County 3-2 and losing to Pierce County 9-1. Apalachee’s season started with an 11-2 loss to Dacula on Wednesday, August 4. Apalachee defeated Southeast Bulloch 1-0 on Friday.
Greenbrier: The Wolfpack are 2-0 with a pair of wins on Saturday. Greenbrier defeated South Effingham 21 and Heritage (Conyers) 12-0.