The nerves hadn’t subsided even after the game was over.
Jefferson outlasted Jackson County 5-4 in an eight-inning thriller at home Thursday, but the contest still left those involved on edge.
The Dragons’ Morgan McKinney said she wasn’t going to sleep well that night despite working eight innings from the mound in what appeared to be an exhausting victory.
“This is going to keep me up … I’m just so uptight about it,” McKinney said after the game.
Even Jefferson’s coach had trouble masking his anxiety in the dugout.
“I was pacing … I try not to let the girls see it,” Brad Puckett said.
Jefferson and Jackson County’s long-awaited meeting on the softball diamond was worth the price of admission. The Dragons’ Anna Alexander singled home Kasey McDonald in the bottom of the eighth to end the standoff and give the Dragons a 1-0 series lead this season.
Alexander led Jefferson with a 2-for-4 night at the plate with the game-winning RBI. Cathryn Knight also went 1-for-4, driving home two runs. Other offensive leaders for the Dragons were Lindsey Miles (2-for-3) and Morgan McKinney (2-for-3).
Macey Latty led Jackson County at the plate with a 2-for-3 night and an RBI. Jessica Laird and Madison Whitmire both went 2-for-4. Victoria Fontana (1-for-3), Andrea Ledford (1-for-4) and Ashleigh Lance (1-for-4) also had RBIs.
Jackson County coach Lisa Robinson called the loss “gut-wrenching,” noting her mixed emotions in assessing the game.
“The business-like side of me says we made four errors and gave up four unearned runs in those seven innings,” she said. “The run scored in the ITB (international tiebreaker) isn’t technically earned, so take away our mistakes and we win 4-0. We had 10 hits in the game, more than Jefferson (editor’s note: JHS scorekeeping had the hits equal at 10), and we were intense the entire time. The emotional side of me felt a heavy heart as my girls worked so hard, yet fell short. They hit very well, better than in any game so far, and they played together extremely well also.”
Alexander’s game-winning hit capped a night of momentum swings between the two new-found rivals.
Jefferson broke a scoreless tie with four runs in the bottom of the fifth, but Jackson County answered with four in the top of the sixth.
Jefferson got a huge defensive play in the top of the seventh when Lindsey Miles made diving catch in left field to save two runs. But Jackson County answered in the bottom of the seventh with a relay from Fontana in center field to Lance at third to cut down Summer Bartek.
It took international tiebreaker rules to decide the contest with each team starting the eighth inning with a runner on second.
McKinney pitched out of jam in the top of the eighth after Jackson County put runners at first and third with one out.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Dragon offense moved Kasey McDonald to third with a bunt from Paige Pate — who Puckett praised for being able to produce in the clutch.
Alexander, the team’s leadoff hitter, provided the game-winner two batters later. “That’s what a leadoff hitter does,” Puckett said. “Get a bat on the ball.”
Puckett said he saw his team “grow up” with Thursday’s win, noting that the scenario might played out much differently last year with so much inexperience.
“Last year, we wouldn’t have handled that situation for nothing in the world,” Puckett said.
McKinney, only a sophomore, said she and her teammates kept their composure after their 4-0 lead vanished.
“We just said we’re not going to give up,” McKinney explained. “We’re going to give 110 percent to get it right.”
Robinson said similar things about the determination of her players, saying she “wouldn’t trade them for any team we face.”
The Panthers are already looking toward the rematch, though the date has to be set. That game will actually be a make-up of the two teams' Aug. 17 rain-out.
“We will play Jefferson again, and we will have the opportunity to get our win again,” Robinson said. “Jefferson didn’t beat us, we beat ourselves. You can’t make four errors in a game and expect to win. Offensively, when you get 10 hits, you should win.”