E.A. Sports Today

Oxford starts strong

Lady Jackets win first two games in Class 6A state tournament, move within one win of playing for the title

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

MONTGOMERY — Oxford came to Lagoon Park with every intention of doing better than it did here a year ago.

The Lady Jackets have done that by 200 percent already, and they are looking for more.

A year ago, Oxford went out in two games. On Thursday the Lady Jackets won twice and moved within an early morning win on Friday of playing for the state championship.

They beat Saraland 11-2 and then rallied to beat Cullman 7-6. They’ll play area rival Chelsea in the battle of tournament unbeatens Friday at 10:30 a.m.

“This is awesome,” senior right fielder Grace Mitchell said. “Last year we came up here and went 0-2, so this year we were like we’re going to win on the first day. To come out with two wins is awesome; it’s a great feeling. I’m so excited to see what tomorrow holds.”

Oxford coach Wendy McKibbin praised her team’s grit after the win over Cullman. That grit was tested in a big way after Olivia Schwaiger hit a three-run homer with two outs in the sixth that just cleared the fence and gave the Lady Bearcats a 6-5 lead in a game Oxford had control.

But instead of going through the motions in the seventh the Lady Jackets (42-13) rallied for two in the seventh and Rylee Waldrep got the final three outs to secure the win.

Kaylynn Garrett started the winning rally when she reached on a hot shot to short. Haley Lyner then followed with a single up the middle — after showing bunt twice — that was booted in the outfield for an extra base.

Sarah Howell’s high chop to second got the tying run home and Mitchell’s bouncer through the left side of the infield put the Lady Jackets back in front.

“When our leadoff KK got on I was confident because we’ve been in so many situations like that this year,” Mitchell said. “I think all of us were (confident).”

The Lady Jackets still had to get out of the bottom of the seventh to claim victory.

Lately, McKibbin has been given to changing her pitchers every nine batters. Cullman’s leadoff hitter in the seventh would have been Waldrep’s ninth hitter of that rotation, but McKibbin stuck with her and she closed it out even though the Lady Bearcats had the tying run in scoring position.

“I asked her if we were going to change and she said she didn’t know if we could,” Waldrep said. “I didn’t really understand what that meant and then she said you were staying in. I was actually glad. I wanted to close it out.”

It was a relaxed bunch of Yellow Jackets that opened the state tournament against Saraland.

Waldrep and JoJo Skinner were as sharp as ever. They combined for 13 strikeouts. They struck out the side in the first, fifth and seventh innings.

“Me and Jo are a great team and we really complement each other,” Waldrep said. “I think it really keeps other schools off balance when we switch like that.”

Lyner drove in three runs with a homer and two sacrifice flies. Howell, Mitchell, Bailey Clark and Waldrep all had two hits apiece.

The teams traded runs in the first inning, but Oxford took control with three in the third and three in the fourth.

“The kids have been relaxed since regionals,” McKibbin said. “We had a real good week of practice. They came here last year and wanted to do better than they did last year.

“They understand what it takes, what grit is. They don’t quit. They want to make some noise.”

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