If the past weekend is any indication, a young Jefferson team from last year is now a battle-tested unit this year.
Jefferson won three times over the weekend in Columbus, including two lopsided victories, to place third in the gold medal bracket of the Jordan Invitational.
Coach Brad Puckett said his team – which had dealt with its share of inexperience last year — responded whenever challenged throughout the five-game event.
“It just shows their maturity, how much they’ve grown up,” Puckett said.
Jefferson (3-2) faces Hart County on the road Thursday in Region 8-AA action and comes home for a Tuesday contest with Elbert County (the game was originally a road contest, but Jefferson will now make that trip Sept. 16). The Dragons’ much anticipated region opener with rival Jackson County this past Tuesday was rained out.
Jefferson then moves on to the Buford Tournament Aug. 25, 27-28, hosted by the three-time defending Class AA champions.
The Dragons slate in that tournament includes Union County, Providence Academy and Buford, which has built itself into a softball dynasty. Puckett welcomes the tough schedule.
“If we want to be the best, we’ve got to play the best,” he said.
Tournament highlights over the weekend in Columbus included Kasey McDonald’s second career home run and Catherine Knight’s career first-round tripper. Summer Bartek, back after missing all of last season, hit .415 over the weekend while Jordyn Whitfield hit an amazing .600.
“It’s great to have her in that no. 2 spot in the lineup,” Puckett said of Whitfield.
Morgan McKinney picked up two victories from the mound, while Kayla Perry had one.
“I felt both our pitchers pitched really well this weekend,” Puckett said.
Jefferson opened with a 6-3 victory Friday over Woodland, which went 19-10 in Class AAAA last year, and followed that with a 9-1 rout of Shaw. The Dragons suffered a 13-0 setback to Heritage of Catoosa to open Saturday play but rebounded with an 8-0 victory over Marion County. Jefferson was edged 3-2 by Bleckley County in its tournament finale.
Puckett had nothing but good things to say about his team in that loss. Bleckley County lost by only one run to the Heritage-Catoosa team that routed Jefferson, which presented a huge challenge for the Dragons.
“I challenged the girls … How are we going to respond to play this team?” Puckett said. “The girls came out and fought and just play hard.”
McKinney paced the Dragons offensively in the opener against Woodland with a 3-for-4 performance and two RBIs. Perry picked up the win, surrendering seven hits and two earned runs in six innings of work while striking out four.
Against Shaw, Whitfield enjoyed a perfect 3-for-3 performance at the plate, driving home two runs. Adding to the hit parade were McDonald, who went 2-for-2 with a homer and two RBIs, and Catherine Knight was also 2-for-2 with a homerun. Morgan McKinney worked five innings for the victory, giving up four hits and one earned run while striking out seven.
In the lopsided loss to Heritage-Catoosa, Jefferson was limited to just one hit while Perry took the loss on the mound.
In the bounce-back victory over Marion County, Whitfield went 3-for-3 again, scored three runs and collected an RBI to spark the Dragons. Bartek also had a big afternoon at the plate, going 2-for-2 with two RBIs. McKinney picked up the victory with three innings of no-hit softball, allowing one walk and striking out seven. Savannah Snapp pitched the final two innings, surrendering just one hit and striking out three.
Jefferson was held to four hits in its loss to Bleckley County. McKinney took the loss, surrendering nine hits and two earned runs while striking out four.