Come-from-behind surge propels WildcatsMarch 22, 2019
By JONATHAN SAXON
JASPER — Hardwood season might be over, but the Jasper softball team had a bit of March magic to share with the fans who showed up to watch the Wildcats play their third game of the young season against the Apollo Eagles on a chilly Thursday night.
Runs had been hard to come by for both teams, as Wildcats sophomore Mia Werner and Eagles senior Keely Eans held each other’s lineups scoreless through the first four and a half innings. The Wildcats finally broke through in the bottom of the fifth, thanks to a double from junior second baseman Grace Colvin and a bunt from Werner, which scored junior center fielder Lexie Jerger and sophomore pinch runner Kendyl Ruhe, respectively, for a 2-0 lead.
Eagles junior center fielder Hallie Wilson was able to drive in Eans in the sixth inning to make it a one-score game, but the Wildcats were in full control of their destiny going into the seventh inning.
Or so it seemed.
Jasper was able to collect two of its final three outs with relative ease, thanks to force-out plays at first base for junior first baseman Madison Lowe and junior second baseman Brooke Brown. But a walk from Eans loaded the bases and during the next at bat, Mattie Lyons was able to make contact. Lyons’ hit found its way to senior shortstop Halli Leinenbach, who made a number of solid defensive plays for the Wildcats infield up to that point. But she rushed her throw to second base as she fielded the ball, which led to a drop for Colvin. The miscue allowed sophomore right fielder Abbie Gore and senior shortstop Madison Shemwell to score, and a single from Wilson right afterward drove in Eans for a 4-2 Apollo lead.
Wildcats coach Matt Pryor called for a timeout and gathered his team in the infield for a talk. Rather than take the time to blow a gasket at what looked like a late-game collapse, he reminded his team that it had one job to get out of the jam and into the bottom of the inning for a chance to win.
“Just play all 21 outs,” he said. “As long as we have one at-bat left, we still have an opportunity. I believe anyone who walks into that batter’s box can put the ball in play and give us an opportunity to win.”
So with that, the Wildcats got their final out and went to work in the bottom of the seventh. Both Colvin and Werner were able to get singles and were replaced by pinch runners Kaitlynn Mendel and Nicole Mehringer; senior third baseman Rachel Gress notched another base hit to load the bags. Then junior designated player Madison Mathies stepped up to the plate. Matheis had been 0 for 2 with a strikeout up to that point, but when she saw the ball leave Eans’ hand this time, she knew she could make good things happen with her swing.
“Coming out of her hand, I saw that is was going to be good,” she said. “So I was like, ‘I’m just going to go for it and it’ll go somewhere’.”
Indeed it did, as Mathies knocked the pitch into center field with enough juice to score Mendel and Mehringer to tie the game. However, the walk-off run wouldn’t be so dramatic. After sophomore right fielder Hannah Schwenk clipped a single to reload the bases, Leinenbach stepped up to the plate looking to put the game away. And she did so by taking one for the team as Eans dinged her in the hip, which allowed Ruhe (who was pinch running for Gress) to bring in the final run for a 5-4 victory.
Werner (2-1, 8.69 ERA) finished the game with eight hits, three strikeouts, two walks and four runs (one earned). She also went 1 for 3 with a walk. Mathies went 1 for 3 with two RBIs and a strikeout. Colvin and Leinenbach each drove in a run.
Eans (0-1, 4.00 ERA) finished with nine hits, six strikeouts, five walks and five runs (four earned). Wilson went 2 for 4 with two RBIs.
“I think we played very well coming off such a big loss,” Werner said, referring to Jasper’s 23-0 loss to Floyd Central on Wednesday. “Our bounce back and how we adjusted with the game was very good. Our energy was a lot higher, which helped us secure that win.”
Pryor was also proud of the way the Wildcats (2-1) responded against the Eagles (0-1), especially with how the seniors rallied the team in the face of their setback the night before. He thinks a win like Thursday’s is good not only to rebound from the previous loss, but it also demonstrates what the team is capable of accomplishing late in games when it’s tight and the momentum appears to be shifting away from them.
“When you’re down, there’s still life left in you,” he said. “Never think the game is over, even when you lose the lead late in the game. Have confidence in yourself and your teammates that you have an opportunity to win the ball game.”
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