Lady Jets make state final four
Fans who wanted a prime seat for Friday evening's state tournament softball contest at Jordan-Matthews needed to show up a good half-hour before the first pitch.
For good reason, too, as the Lady Jets were in their first-ever state quarterfinal game. Led by sophomore Holly Clark firing a complete game, Jordan-Matthews (21-4) kept the run going to their first-ever semifinal spot with a 6-1 win over South Columbus (20-8).
The Lady Jets, champs of the Mid-State Conference, had to travel and knock off PAC-6 champion Wheatmore 7-3 in the round of 16 on Tuesday. Three Rivers Conference champ South Columbus got the opening run of the game but that was all the Lady Stallions managed as Clark yielded eight hits, but no walks, and struck out 13.
Clark fanned the side in the top of the first, and did so again in the second, although it was after clean-up hitter Bailey Russ drilled a triple to the fence in right-center field and Lindsey Jones followed with an RBI single lined between shortstop and third.
The Lady Jets answered right away. South Columbus pitcher Bailey Dyson retired the first four hitters she faced before Caroline Webster singled. Webster stole second, taking the bag on a pickoff toss to first.
Alanna Pyrtle was hit by a pitch with two outs to keep the inning going and Katie Black knocked an RBI single into right-center field. Pyrtle was thrown out at the plate leaving a 1-1 score through two innings.
The Lady Jets strung more base hits together, largely of the "hit 'em where they ain't" type, for a four-run third which swung the game for good.
Kaitlin James started the inning cueing a grounder which went in the middle of the Stallion pitcher, first baseman and second baseman for a single. James was on second with two outs when Dee DeCristofaro dropped a bloop single into right-center field scoring James.
The two-out rally picked up momentum from there. Clark singled and Webster walked loading the bases. Sydney Graham hit a fly which fell near the right field line for a two-RBI single, then Webster raced home on a wild pitch for a 5-1 Lady Jet lead.
South Columbus kept the game within reach by escaping a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the Lady Jet fourth. DeCristofaro sent a fly, which should've been a sacrifice fly, to deep right-center field but a running mistake led to a double play with a catch and throw to third.
The Lady Stallions put runners on first and second in the next half inning only for a key double play keeping the 5-1 lead safe for the home side.
On one of Clark's many strikeouts, DeCristofaro fired behind the Lady Stallion runner straying off first for an inning-ending double play.
Clark walked leading off the Lady Jet fifth and wound up scoring on Pyrtle's bunt single plus a throwing error.
Lady Jet supporters, along with a serious caravan from Columbus County, made for an announced attendance of 305, which was believed, at least according to the PA man, to be a Jordan-Matthews softball record.
Former Lady Jet softball and multi-sport standout Aquilla Mateen threw the first pitch during pregame introductions. Mateen was the team MVP and offensive player of the year as North Carolina's centerfielder in this, her sophomore, season. She was a star shortstop and point guard on a Lady Jet state championship basketball team at Jordan-Matthews.
Jordan-Matthews will face the winner of Friday night's Northeastern vs. Beddingfield quarterfinal game in a best-of-three semifinal series tentatively scheduled to begin Tuesday.