Jefferson softball coach Kacie Bostwick had said she thought all the pressure in Game 3 would be on Sonoraville. But as it turned out, Bostwick’s players thrived when the pressure was turned up on them.
The Dragons overcame a 2-0 first-inning deficit and then — clinging to a one-run lead late — worked out of a two-on, no-out jam in the final inning for a 5-4 victory Thursday (Oct. 10) to win the opening-round state tournament series 2-1.
Jefferson will face Brantley County Wednesday (Oct. 16) at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the Sweet 16 (a third game is set for Thursday, Oct. 17 at 4 p.m., if needed).
“Our kids battle, our kids fight,” Bostwick said.
Jefferson pitcher Rayvn Saxon forced a flyout and pop out and recorded a strikeout to end Sonoraville's seventh-inning scoring threat and ensure a first-round Dragon victory for the fourth-straight year. Saxon allowed six hits and four runs (one earned) with two strikeouts in a complete-game performance.
“I’ve got to give props to Ravyn in the circle,” Bostwick said, “because she is a competitor, and I think our defense feeds off of her. When they can tell she’s relaxed and she’s throwing hard, they play hard.”
Bostwick said she felt like her team experienced a little bit of everything in a demanding first-round series against the third-seeded Phoenix. Jefferson rebounded from an 11-1 rout in Game 1 to win the final two games 7-6 and 5-4, respectively.
“We took a whoopin,’ we responded with a fight, and then we almost took another whoopin,’ and responded with a fight again,” Bostwick said. “It was nice to see the resolve and the fight.”
And she believes her 23-9 team will be all-the-better moving forward after surviving the series.
“We’ve been battle-tested all year long with the region that we’re in and the out-of-region schedule that we play,” Bostwick said. “So, having this kind of test is really good for us.”
Jefferson found itself playing from behind again in this series as Sonoraville jumped out on top immediately on Thursday with a two-run single from Taylor Long in the top of the first inning.
Meanwhile, the Dragons were shutout through the first three innings, mustering just two hits.
But Sonoraville miscues created an opening for Jefferson in the bottom of the fourth inning. A hit batsman and two errors allowed the Dragons to load the bases, and Jefferson responded with four two-out runs. Livi Blackstock singled home a run on a bunt; an error on an Ellie Kinlaw grounder plated Emily Matthews; an error on a Caroline Brownlee grounder allowed Paige Kelly to score; and a wild pitch brought Blackstock home from third. Jefferson led 4-2.
Sonoraville committed four errors in the pivotal fourth inning and five defensive miscues in the ball game.
An error from the Dragons cost them a run as well. A dropped fly ball in shallow left center in the top of the fifth inning allowed Sonoraville’s Karley Thomas to score, cutting the lead to 4-3. But Jefferson answered with the defensive play of the game one batter later as a relay from Brownlee to Blackstock to McKenzie Turner cut down the would-be tying run at the plate for the final out of the top of the fifth inning.
The teams traded runs after that. Matthews singled home Chloe Hiatt in the bottom of the fifth inning, increasing the lead to 5-3. Sonoraville’s Gracie Crocker cut the lead to 5-4 with an RBI single in the top of the sixth.
Protecting a one-run lead in the top of the seventh, Saxon allowed a walk and single to start the inning, putting the tying and go-ahead runs on base. But the sophomore forced a flyout to Brownlee in left and a pop-out to Hiatt at first. That brought Long to the plate with two outs. On a 1-2 count, Saxon caught the inside corner for a called strike three.
“That was a great pitch … she hit the spot exactly like we wanted to,” Bostwick said. “It was awesome. That’s a good feeling to end the game on a punch out.”
Saxon admitted to being nervous initially, but her confidence grew as the inning went on.
“I wasn’t nervous that last batter because I had a gut feeling that I was going to get her out,” she said.
Saxon said she threw a rise ball for the game-clinching strike.
“I was just like we’re getting her out,” she said. “So, I just went with all the power I had to push through.”
Saxon said she’s looking forward to moving onto the Sweet 16 now with the win, especially as a young player.
“It’s very exciting to get to play with all these girls and be in the next round,” Saxon said.
Jefferson faces a trek to the southeastern corner of the state to face Brantley County for this next round, but Bostwick said the strong team chemistry of this group makes it well-equipped for a long road trip.
“These guys just get along so good and they’re fun to be with,” Bostwick said. “So, I think this trip is going to be a fun trip for us.”
GAMES 1 AND 2
Jefferson forced a Game 3 by rallying from an 11-1 loss in Game 1 in the series on Wednesday (Oct. 9) with a 7-6 win later that night in Game 2.
“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,” 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.
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.
Jefferson ended the shutout in the bottom of the seventh with Caroline Brownlee doubling and scoring on a double steal.