Leader Blues

Friday, May 02, 2008

SPORTS>>Lady Devils suffer 10th-inning heartbreak

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville catcher Alexis Oakley was there for the tag, but Mountain Home’s Jenna Gilbert was somehow able to slide underneath it for the tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

A single to left field by Miranda Manchester one inning later brought in the winning run for the Lady Bombers on their way to a 3-2 win on Thursday night at Dupree Park. Mountain Home completed the sweep with a 9-0 win in the nightcap.

The two wins gave Mountain Home the outright 6A-East Conference title, while Jacksonville, which finished league play at 10-4, must await the Marion-West Memphis games to determine what seed it will take into the state tournament next week.

The winner-take-all format provided for one of the most competitive softball games of the season in the opener, but the emotional letdown, combined with sophomore pitcher Jessica Lanier’s lingering illness in the waning innings led to the Game 2 blowout for the Lady Bombers.

“These kids are nothing but overachievers in my book,” Jacksonville head coach Tanya Ganey said of her young team. “I can’t say enough about what they’ve been able to accomplish this season. We don’t have what I would consider to be a superstar athlete. What we do have are a bunch of unique young ladies who play from the heart and go out and give everything they have when they’re out there. I’m very proud of all of them.”

Mountain Home grabbed an early 1-0 lead in the opener with an RBI by Shelby Anderson that drove in Domino Miller. They held that lead until the top of the sixth, when Bailee Herlacher charged all the way home from first base on a sacrifice bunt by Jennifer Bock.

Herlacher never slowed when she got to second, and after MH third-baseman Miller missed the throw from first, the Lady Red Devils’ fastest base runner had a clear path home for the tying run that eventually forced extra innings.

The Lady Devils managed to load the bases in the top of the eighth, but Mountain Home pitcher Manchester got out of the jam, striking out the side in the process. Jacksonville then sent the Lady Bombers three-and-out in the bottom of the eighth.

Paula Burr took second base to start out the top of the ninth, and eventually came in for the score on a sacrifice bunt by Alana Whatley to give Jacksonville its only lead of the night.

Gilbert started at second base for Mountain Home in the bottom of the ninth. After Gilbert moved to third on a ground out, Herlacher fielded a ground ball deep in the hole at short and made a strong throw home. But Gilbert made a spectacular slide to avoid the tag by Oakley to knot the game at 2.

“They’re hurt, and that’s understandable,” Ganey said. “To play as well as we played and not be able to win the conference championship is disappointing, but these girls have earned the right to go to the state tournament. We’re not going in as a five or a six seed, we’re right there in the top half of the conference, and that’s a tribute to how hard they’ve worked this year.”

The Lady Red Devils dug a hole early in Game 2 when Mountain Home scored five runs in the first inning, but they were able to regroup defensively, and gave up only one more run through the next three innings.

Lanier, who threw a total of 17 innings on Thursday while still recovering from sickness, collapsed outside the batter’s box while at the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Trainer Jason Cates got her back on her feet, and she was able to make it back out to the mound to start out the fifth inning. The umpires questioned Cates as to whether she was able to continue, but the longtime JHS trainer checked her reflexes and vision, and deemed her fit to continue.

“How many people are going to do that?” Ganey said. “She’s been sick, and she has asthma. Between those two, she just lost her breath. For her to get back in there shows a lot of determination. I’m pretty proud of the fact that even with that kind of setback, she still got back in there to do what she could.”

Lanier looked weakened on the mound, but she still managed to strike out three batters in the top of the fifth.
The Lady Red Devils were still able to keep the game within reach until the top of the sixth, when Adams’ three-run, inside-the-park home run set the game’s final margin.

Lanier finished with 18 strikeouts on the evening, while giving up six hits in Game 1, and only one walk for both contests. The Lady Red Devils had eight errors over the two games. Herlacher went 3 of 5 for Jacksonville in Game 1.

The Lady Red Devils finished the regular season with a record of 12-6 overall and 10-4 in the 6A East Conference. Mountain Home is 23-4 overall and finished 12-2 in the East.

Mountain Home’s Keller Park will be the sight of the 6A state tournament next week. Tournament play will begin Friday at 4 p.m.