A Jefferson team that perhaps no one thought would reach the state tournament came oh-so-close to crashing the Class AAA Sweet 16. The Dragons fell 1-0 in eight innings in the decisive game three of their opening round series at Central-Carrollton Thursday, ending the season at 11-18 under first-year Jefferson coach Kacie Shields.

“Basically, we were the underdogs the whole time — we were just really proud of ourselves for that,” junior pitcher Caroline Mitchell said of the team reaching the state tournament. “Coming in with a new coach, this was our first year — big accomplishment.”

Shields believes the team has set the bar high for the program with its postseason run. Jefferson earned its way to the Class AAA postseason by upsetting Jackson County in the region tournament and then nearly pulled off the upset of Central-Carrollton, which had won at least 30 games per season the previous three years.

“I don’t think a lot of people expected us to be where we’re at today (Thursday) or yesterday (Wednesday), so I think they've done a really good job of kind of keeping their minds right, starting with the Jackson County games (in the region tournament) and progressing to where we needed to be,” Shields said.

The extra-inning standoff between the Dragons and Lions Thursday ended a close series between fourth-seeded Jefferson and top-seeded Central Carrollton. The Dragons dropped the first game of a Wednesday doubleheader, 4-1, before rallying with a 2-1 win in the nightcap to stay alive.

Shields pointed to the team’s resiliency all year long.

“Our motto this year has been ‘love each other,’” Shields said. “Because no matter what team you’re on, no matter what sport you play, there’s always going to be tough times, and they did a good job of taking care of each other. But that one was a tough one to lose.”

Pitching dominated game three.

Mitchell fired a two-hitter, while Central-Carrollton’s Emily Williams limited the Dragons to one hit — an infield single by Emily Dufty in the sixth inning.

Both pitchers — facing off against each other for the third time in the series — allowed five base runners through seven scoreless innings.

“It was a pitchers’ duel,” Shields said. “She (Mitchell) did a great job. Caroline does a great job for us always, and our defense played well. But we’ve got to continue to work in the offseason on our offensive game, and kind of our mindset and the way we approach our at-bats, and especially be able to kind of make in-game adjustments.”

Jefferson appeared on the verge of taking the lead in the top of the eighth during international tiebreaker rules.

With Angelina Lord starting the inning at second base (per the tie-breaker rule), Dufty reached on an error and Savannah Dooley moved Lord over with a sacrifice bunt.

Dufty then stole second without a throw, setting up the Dragons in prime position with runners at second and third with just one out.

But Jefferson’s threat ended promptly when Mitchell lined out to shortstop and Lord was doubled off third base.

Central-Carrollton won the game in the bottom of the eighth with Kayla Sales moving Eliza Luke to third with a sac bunt and Luke beating a throw to home plate on a Faith Bennett grounder to shortstop.

While the loss hurt, both Shields and Mitchell said they’ll have special memories from this season.

“It’s been a good first year,” Shields said. “I wouldn’t choose a different group to do it with. I wanted that group right there to spend my first year at Jefferson with. We’ve got to learn from it, and we will. We’re going to work really, really hard in the offseason, because that’s when I think you accomplish the most skill-set wise.”

“I’ll remember this year as just coming together as a team and as a family,” Mitchell said. “We have to start new next year.”

WEDNESDAY SPLIT

Jefferson was limited to two hits by Williams in a 4-1 loss in the opening game of Wednesday’s doubleheader. The Lions plated four runs in the third inning to take control of the game. The Dragons managed their lone run with a fourth-inning RBI from Cameron Watson.

Jefferson pulled out 2-1 win in the nightcap behind a two-hitter from Mitchell. Mitchel worked seven innings, allowing one earned run and a walk, while striking out four.

Dufty led Jefferson at the plate, going 3-for-3. Dooley and Cesyrea Cox drove home Jefferson’s runs.

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