Jefferson was sent to the canvas in Game 1 Wednesday during its state playoff series with Sonoraville, but staved off a first-round knockout with a gusty win in Game 2.
The Dragons will play in a decisive Game 3 against the Phoenix Thursday at 5 p.m. at home after a 7-6 win followed an 11-1 defeat in Wednesday’s doubleheader.
“I talked to them about how their character was going to be tested — their love for each other, their love for the game, their desire and all that stuff,” Jefferson coach Kacie Bostwick said. “And they responded exactly how I would hope that they would.”
With the Dragons tied 3-3 with the Phoenix in the top of the sixth in Game 2, a two-run single from Chloe Hiatt and a two-run home run from MacKenzie Turner gave Jefferson a four-run lead and propelled the Dragons to the win.
The Phoenix cut the lead to 7-4 in the bottom of the sixth, and struck for two more runs in the bottom of the seventh, but Jefferson reliever Camoreena Hart forced a flyout to right field to end the game.
Sonoraville starting pitcher Taylor Long stifled Jefferson in Game 1, allowing just three hits, but the Dragons produced six hits in Game 2, chasing her from the ball game in the sixth inning.
“That pitcher is a very good pitcher,” Bostwick said. “So, I think it kind of just took us a game to get comfortable with seeing the velo that she was throwing.”
In a back-and-forth Game 2, Sonoraville took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth with an RBI single from Kinsley Long, but Jefferson scored two runs in the top of the fifth after a pitch from Taylor Long got to the backstop. The Dragons added another run when Hiatt scored from third on an error on an Emily Matthews ground ball to take a 3-1 lead.
Sonoraville’s Sandra Beth Pritchett evened the game 3-3 with a two-run homer to left field in the bottom of the fifth, but Hiatt responded with her two-run single in the top of the sixth to break the tie.
“Chloe seems to come up in big moments like that,” Bostwick said.
One batter later, Turner blasted a pitch over the left field wall to increase the lead to 7-3.
“Mac Turner, same thing, she got us rolling in the region tournament, and the same thing here,” Bostwick said. “She ran into a 1-2 or 0-2 pitch … as soon as that ball was hit, we knew it was gone.”
Jefferson rallied from a shaky performance in Game 1, which was marred by eight errors that led to 10 unearned runs.
While the defense struggled to find consistency, Jefferson’s offense was shut down by Taylor Long, who threw a complete-game three-hitter with 13 strikeouts. Long didn’t allow a hit through the first 4 1/3 innings.
Amber Tullis broke up Long’s no-hit bid with a single in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Shayna Dutton ignited the Phoenix offensively, going 3-for-5 with four RBIs.
Her two-run double in the third inning broke a scoreless tie. Following a Phoenix run off an error in the fifth inning, Dutton provided an RBI single to up the Sonoraville lead to 4-0.
Another error in the fifth inning and one in the sixth brought home two additional runs before another Dutton RBI single in the sixth increased the lead to 7-0. Sonoraville loaded the bases in the top of the seventh and added four more scores off a hit batsman, an error (which plated two runs) and a groundout.
Jefferson ended the shutout in the bottom of the seventh with Caroline Brownlee doubling and scoring on a double steal.
“I think sometimes we play with a fear of losing as opposed to a desire to win,” Bostwick said of Game 1. “And when we play with a fear of losing, you’re on your heels and your back is against the wall and once a couple of runs got scored, I think they just continued to play with that fear of losing.”
Bostwick said she feels like the “pressure is off” for her team as it enters Game 3 Thursday with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
“I really feel like in a three-game series, whoever wins the first game, there’s pressure to win the second game, and if they don’t, there’s even more pressure to win the third game,” Bostwick said. “So, I think, in my opinion, their backs are against the wall. I know they’re going to come out firing tomorrow. But we’ve seen what both their pitchers can do, so I’m hoping we can just score more runs than they can.”