E.A. Sports Today

KK comes up big

Lady Jackets take down Southside in area tournament opener, await the winner of Southside-Pell City for the title

By Brant Locklier
For East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — It is so, so important to win your regular season area games, especially in a three-team area. You get a first round bye, automatically qualify for the region tournament and get to host the area tournament.

Oxford went 4-0 this year in the area during the regular season and took advantage of all that afforded them Tuesday as they took a huge step towards winning their fourth straight area championship by knocking off Southside-Gadsden 5-1 in the Class 6A Area 12 tournament at Choccolocco Park.

Kaylynn Garrett came to play as she did almost everything imaginable for the Lady Jackets in the game. The senior shortstop had a single, double, a walk, scored a run, drove in a run, made two sparkling plays on defense from deep in the hole at short, ran down a grounder behind second base and made a great running catch down the left field line.

“I love to play defense and help my team in any way I can,” said Garrett. “Tonight was an important game for us and I needed to be focused and ready to play.”

Southside had four left-handed slap hitters that could fly, and that puts a lot of pressure on shortstops to catch and throw in a hurry. Garrett was equal to the task.

“I just listened to the coaches and watched the signs and tried to stay focused,” she said. “I was glad to get some hits as I had an oh-fer last time and was not going to let that happen again.”

The Jackets (43-5-1) scored first in the bottom of the second when Bailey Clark led off with a walk and was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Ashlyn Miller. Rylee Waldrep moved Clark to third with a single and Shelby Caldwell fought off an inside pitch with a single to left to put the Jackets up 1-0.

Garrett sliced a double down the left field line to start the third inning. She stole third base and then came home on a single by Amber Dempsey as the Lady Jackets opened up a 2-0 lead.

Rylee Waldrep got another Jacket rally going in the third with a single and she wound up at second after the ball went between the leftfielder’s legs. Sara Howell drove home the third Jackets run two outs later with a double.

Southside fought back with an unearned run in the top of the sixth when first baseman Waldrep dropped a throw to let in a run. But the Jackets answered with two runs of their own in the bottom half of the inning on a run-scoring ground out by Howell and a two-out hit by Garrett up the middle.

“Really confident” Jo Jo Skinner was brilliant in the circle and her control was exceptional as she allowed no walks and scattered five hits. She threw 100 pitches and had 69 strikes and stayed ahead of the hitters. Left-fielder Dempsey made a beautiful running catch at the left field fence to end the game.

“It was a little nerve-racking on that last play, but I knew Amber was going to get it,” said Skinner. ”We have an all-star outfield and knowing they are out there really helps us as pitchers. It is a heck of an outfield behind me.”

Ninth-ranked Southside (27-16) took care of Pell City in the opener 10-1 to set up the championship game and then beat Pell City again just to be able to come back to Oxford on Thursday. Southside must beat Oxford twice to win the Area title. Both teams will go on to the Regionals.

“I thought our kids played really well tonight,” Oxford coach Wendy McKibbin said. “They executed everything we needed. They bunted well, got on base every inning, put the ball in play and got the job done.

“It is great to be home and in our position going to Thursday night.”

To see a gallery of B.J. Franklin photos from the Oxford-Southside game, go to www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

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