Jackson’s single, dash to first clinch Lawrence Co. win
By Bradley Handwerger
CAPSHAW 3/4 Nichole Jackson raced down the first-base line Saturday afternoon with only one thing on her mind.
“Get there, and don’t let them get you out,” Lawrence County’s sophomore catcher said. “Run as fast as you can.”
When the yellow softball rolled through the hole between the East Limestone first baseman and second baseman, Jackson’s safety at first base was sealed.
Then she did what comes naturally when your single brings home the series’ winning run that sends your team to the state tournament — you hug the nearest ally. In this case, it was coach Jackie Burch.
“I immediately turned to him and jumped into his arms. It was a big bear hug,” Jackson said, still beaming more than 10 minutes after her hit gave Lawrence County a 2-1 second-game win over East Limestone.
Lawrence County swept the Lady Indians at East Limestone in the Class 4A softball sub-state, winning the opener 7-4 before the victory in the second game of the second-round best-of-three series.
But as celebratory as Lawrence County was, dancing and shouting and smiling, East Limestone (28-16) displayed the opposite.
The players sat and cried and watched in despair in their own dugout, knowing it’ll be another year before it can get to Montgomery for a chance at a state championship.
“It’s tough,” East Limestone coach Brett Nave said. “We’re a very young team, so it’s an honor to get this far. But whenever you get this far, you always want to go one more.”
Next up, the Lady Red Devils (48-15) will play Alabama Christian in the state first round at 9 a.m. Thursday in Montgomery.
That the Lady Devils are one step closer to the state championship trophy largely can be attributed to Jackson.
She went 3-for-4 with an RBI and three runs scored in the opener, and then finished the second game 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
“She’s one of our leaders,” Lawrence County coach Don Smith said. “She’s been our leader behind the plate and in the dugout.”
The second game was a pitcher’s duel. Summer Wilkerson picked up the win, tossing eight innings and giving up 11 hits. But she allowed only one run and struck out seven.
More importantly, three times Wilkerson got herself out of bases loaded jams. She did it in the first, striking out Kayla Sneed with the bags full; in the fourth, striking out Danielle Holder; and in the fifth, getting Bess Rhodes to line out back to herself.
Nevertheless, Wilkerson couldn’t rest on the mound because East Limestone’s Morgan Franks was pitching a gem herself. Franks finished the game giving up two runs on six hits while striking out five.
The Red Devils struck first, putting a run on the board in the bottom of the sixth. Wilkerson doubled, then moved to third on a passed ball. Jackson singled to right field, bringing home Wilkerson.
In the top of the seventh, East Limestone continued to press the issue. Chelsea Turner reached third, but was thrown out at home. Sneed also reached third, and came home when Staci Johnson roped a single to right, tying the game 1-1.
Then, in the bottom of the eighth, Jackson came through with her heroics. Morgan Smith reached first on a bunt single for Lawrence County. Wilkerson moved Smith over with a groundout to first, then Smith reached third on a passed ball.
Jackson then connected on her single through the gap, giving Lawrence County the 2-1 win.
“We usually have one big inning in the game, and I was waiting for us to put three or four on the board,” Nave said. “It never came today. You have those days, you just hate to have it now.”
In the first game, Lawrence County broke to a 3-0 first-inning lead. East Limestone battled back, picking up a run in the bottom of the first and two more in the third to tie the game.
The Lady Indians took a 4-3 lead in the fourth when Johnson singled home Turner.
But the lead was short-lived. Lawrence County scored three more runs in the top of the fifth for a 6-4 lead, then added another in the sixth.
“This is one of the scrappiest bunches I’ve coached in 35 years,” Smith said. “We have different people step up at different times. That’s what makes a good team.”
Individually for Lawrence County, Wilkerson finished the day 2-for-8 with two runs and a double.
For East Limestone, Jyssica Pepper was 4-for-8 with two doubles. Franks was 3-for-9 with a double, and Staci Johnson was 4-for-7 with a run and two doubles.
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