Lady Vols win extra-inning game at home
Harry Houdini had nothing on Starkville Academy pitcher Julianne Jackson.
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Like the former magician and escape artist, Jackson found her way in and out of trouble Thursday, laying the foundation for the Lady Volunteers' 3-2 extra-inning win that was capped by a Lauren Ware walk-off single.
"It's something I've kind of had to deal with a lot last year and this year," said Jackson of her tendency to have to work through tough situations. "But my job is to go in there, throw strikes and get us out of jams like that."
Jackson's efforts stranded nine total Lady Patriots on base over the course of the nine-inning affair, eight of which were left in scoring position.
The lone runs Jackson surrendered came in the top of the fourth when East Rankin's Anna Whatley touched up Jackson with a bases-loaded, two-run single to put the Lady Patriots in front 2-0.
After that, Jackson returned to her bend-but-don't-break approach that frustrated East Rankin all day long.
"We had our opportunities," said East Rankin head coach Trey Bayliss. "We needed to be a little bit more productive on the bases and on the scoreboard, but we weren't able to get that accomplished.
"Hats off to Starkville Academy. Good teams make other good teams do bad things and (Starkville Academy) did very well."
Several of the "bad things" that Bayliss referenced actually allowed the Lady Vols back into the game just an inning after East Rankin had surged ahead.
With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, SA's Mary Austin Barber, Adrienne Futral and Nikki Ford all reached on back-to-back-to-back infield errors by the Lady Patriots, with Barber and Futral each scoring to tie the game at two apiece.
"That's one thing we've been talking about lately is just battling back and competing when things get hard," said Starkville Academy head coach Kayla Mosley. "We did that today and I'm very proud of the team for it."
With the game knotted 2-2, Jackson and East Rankin starter Jordan Herring settled in for what became a hotly-contested pitcher's duel.
With Herring matching her pitch for pitch, Jackson kept East Rankin at bay, in part thanks to her breaking ball.
"My curveball was really working well for me today," said Jackson. "It was curving inside really well and kept batters jumping."
Armed with her hook, Jackson kept East Rankin off the scoreboard in the sixth and seventh innings.
Herring, too, silenced SA in the sixth and seventh, though she was helped out with two outs in the seventh when Barber attempted to end the game by advancing all the way around the bases on a fly ball to East Rankin centerfielder Brittney Vinzant that was misplayed and rolled to the fence.
Barber was thrown out at the plate to force extra innings.
After each team was held scoreless in the eighth, East Rankin threatened in the ninth. With a runner on third and just one out, Lady Patriots second baseman Victoria Shoemaker lifted a fly ball to Futral in centerfield.
Futral responded by making a lunging catch on the run, then firing home to keep the game tied.
"That was probably the highlight of this year for (Futral)," said Jackson. "She made a great catch."
The defensive gems kept coming a batter later when Barber made a leaping grab at shortstop to thwart the East Rankin threat and allowed Jackson to make yet another escape.
"She's such a competitor," said Mosley of Jackson. "I'm just proud of the way she pitched and handled those situations."
All of Jackson's magic payed off in the bottom of the ninth.
With Jackson on third and no one out in the frame, Ware lined her game-winning hit to left field to score Jackson and end the contest.
"It made me feel good to know that I stood up and got that hit for my team," said Ware. "I'm pretty happy about it."
Mosley, too, was excited for Ware, Jackson and her entire club's efforts.
"I'm fired up," said Mosley. "And I know (the team) is fired up too."
The win pushed Starkville Academy to 10-8 overall and 3-3 in conference play
East Rankin fell to 6-7 overall and 0-4 in the conference.
Mosley and the Lady Vols will try to carry all the momentum from Thursday's win into action this weekend as SA continues its season with the Exposure Tournament at the Starkville Sportsplex.