WATERTOWN — The South Jefferson softball team never stopped hitting the ball hard in Wednesday’s Frontier League “B” Division championship game versus General Brown. The only problem was that many of the batted balls that skipped through the infield or flew through the air found a General Brown player who made the play.
That was until McKenzi Burnham drilled a double to right center field to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh inning. Two batters later Hannah McNamara was hit with the bases loaded, allowing Leah Briones to score the championship-winning run for the Spartans, who won the title, 5-4.
The win was also South Jefferson coach Steve Randall’s 250th of his career.
Burnham almost didn’t have the chance to hit her game-tying double. A couple of pitches earlier, her foul-tipped third strike bounced out of Allyson Wargo’s glove, giving Burnham a second chance. She cracked the fifth pitch of the at-bat.
“Honestly I was nervous because I hadn’t had a very good game to begin with,” Burnham said. “But I knew I had to do it for my teammates.”
Burnham, a freshman, remained focused and battled in the at-bat, fouling off three pitches prior to getting a hit.
Staying focused and battling was key for the Spartans offense Wednesday.
“We got some good kids, we have five seniors who have been around, three freshman that have played, you just have to keep playing,” Randall said. “The game isn’t about the first inning, it’s about every inning.”
South Jefferson jumped out to an early 2-0 lead but relinquished it in the fourth when General Brown scored three runs. A throwing error by catcher Alayna Bush allowed the first two to score and tie the game.
However, the Spartans shrugged it off, limiting the damage to only three runs, a manageable deficit.
“She’s such a good player and we trust her,” Randall said of Bush. “You have to have kids that play catcher that aren’t afraid to lose a game. And she’s picked off numerous kids this year. So we look over and go, ‘for every one of those, there’s 20 good plays by that kid.’”
South Jefferson pitcher Jillian Hare worked out of trouble in the fourth and allowed only one more run for the rest of game — a Kailin McManaman RBI single in the fifth.
“We just had to want it more than they did,” Hare said. “Toward the end we were getting stressed and we just knew we had to do this.”
Hare has been sidelined for over a week due to a back injury,
“My concern with her starting was fatigue and how she’d hit her spots,” Randall said. “She was amped up, so she was up in the zone and we typically play down. She got a little tired that fourth inning and then she settled in. And they swing the bats so we knew if we kept it on the plate it would limit her innings but in turn they might hit her well, too.”
The previous two times the Spartans had faced General Brown this season they had scored 11 and then 10 runs. Being held to a much lower run total and closer game caught Hare off-guard.
“Their defense was a lot more solid and they’ve always hit me well,” she said. “But their defense was good today.”
Softball seedings for sectionals will be announced today and the Spartans (16-0) will be ranked high. With tough opponents on the horizon, including possibly General Brown (8-6), Randall thought this game was a great way to prepare.
“We haven’t been stressed a lot lately so you have to have that gut feel, that gut feel that we can do this,” Randall said. “So, in the sectionals, it’s win dirty and it’s win any way you can. [Lions’ coach Lindsay Hanson] has a young squad and we went from scoring 11 runs early to it now being 5-4, [General Brown] has matured a ton, and they’re going to be all right as well.”