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Starkville Academy softball coach Jessica Dickens hopes the home and conference opener for her squad against Washington School Tuesday afternoon was also an eye opener.
Washington pitcher Claire Keller tossed a complete game shutout, the Lady Vols struggled both in the field and at the plate, and SA found itself on the wrong end of an 8-0 score.
"We weren't the same team that we've been," said Dickens. "We looked like we weren't ready to play. There was no focus whatsoever and no concentration on what we were doing. This is the first game we've had where we've come out and played like this. Our first game in front of our home fans, I thought we'd come out fired up and ready to play and it was the exact opposite."
The Lady Vols (6-6, 0-1) fell behind 1-0 early when Keller scored on a sacrifice fly in the first inning, then slowly dug themselves an even deeper hole.
SA starting pitcher Julianne Jackson surrendered a pair of singles to begin Washington's second inning, then hit a batter to load the bases.
With no one out, Jackson induced a grounder to third baseman Shelby Marsh who threw home to force out the lead runner. Looking to complete the double play, catcher Bailey Wofford threw to first, only to see the ball get past first baseman Megan Aucoin and roll into right field, allowing Washington to take a 2-0 lead.
A batter later, Keller made it 3-0 on an RBI single to center.
After a bunt single loaded the bases for Washington again, the Lady Vols' defense redeemed itself for its earlier blunder, successfully turning a third-to-home-to-first double play to end the inning.
Unfortunately for SA, the deficit was already too much to overcome. Despite putting at least one runner on base every inning except for the fourth, the Lady Vols couldn't solve Keller, stranding a total of nine baserunners.
SA's best scoring chance came in the bottom of the second. With two outs, Lauren Ware walked and Emily Gregory singled to put runners at first and second. Mary Austin Barber followed with a grounder that snuck past Washington second baseman Kaylee Childs for a hit, but the Lady Vols ran themselves out of the inning as Childs recovered in time to gun down Ware at the plate.
Washington added two more runs in the top of the third to stretch its lead to 5-0, then added two more in the fifth. Washington completed the scoring with a run in the sixth.
The loss drops SA to 1-4 over its last five games, this coming after a 5-2 start.
With Tuesday already marking the 12th game of the Lady Vols' season, it would be easy to attribute SA's recent struggles to a tiring couple of weeks. However, Dickens isn't looking to make excuses.
"It may be due to (fatigue), but it doesn't matter," said Dickens. "The team has to be ready to play. I still say we've got a good ball club, but the way that we're going to be able to win is to come out and make all the routine plays, which we didn't do today. As a result, we got it handed to us."
The Lady Vols return to action on Friday with a 5 p.m. non-conference game at Winston Academy. SA's next conference matchup is at home on Monday at 4 p.m. against Magnolia Heights.
Dickens hopes her team will be able to take what it learned from Tuesday's loss into their upcoming games.
"I think we'll bounce back from it," said Dickens. "I really hope this game was an eye-opener for us."