By Jonathan Stark
1:03 PM EDT, June 7, 2011
As the East Jessamine softball team’s bus crossed the county line going from Garrard County into Jessamine County last Wednesday, it was greeted by the flashing blue lights of the Jessamine County sheriff’s deputies. The deputies, soon joined by the Nicholasville Police Department and fire department, escorted the bus across town to East Jessamine High School, where Nicholasville Mayor Russ Meyer and more than 100 supporters were there waiting.
The escort and greeting was not routine; the team does not travel with one all the time, and usually it’s just parents waiting at the school following road games. But last Wednesday, the Lady Jags merited it. About two hours beforehand, East had beaten Pulaski County 1-0 in the Region 12 championship and earned the school’s first state softball tournament berth.
“We’ve been so close, especially last year ... and we’re finally able to beat a team that we know is good and good competition, and it means a whole lot,” senior Danielle Boston said.
“It means a whole lot getting to play another week and a half with these girls; I just hope we can win a couple games (at state),” senior Bethany Davis said.
“I think we are the Cinderella team going into state,” senior Emily Underwood said. “We have big hopes, and we’re going to keep going and give it all we have, and if we lose, at least we know we went out with a bang.”
East Jessamine’s season has been wrought with controversy, pressure and drama from day one.
Expectations for going to state have been on the table since the end of the 2010 season, but former East head coach Chris Slone resigned exactly three weeks before the regional championship, and the Lady Jags have battled injuries. One of the most detrimental injuries was the loss of senior catcher Kayla Hall, who has been out since April 2.
“(Winning the region) means the team has worked hard for me ... I can’t do it, but they can kind of do it for me,” Hall said.
Through all of the setbacks, East still continued to win big games behind the arm of Davis, defense of Underwood and Boston and the bats of just about every Lady Jag.
Last Wednesday’s Region 12 championship was no different. Davis was in the circle, the defense was near-perfect and the big hit came from an East Jessamine Middle School eighth-grader.
Davis threw her third complete game in as many days, and it was by far her best as she struck out 13 batters and allowed no walks, one hit and no runs in seven innings. At one point, Davis struck out seven consecutive batters.
“I kept saying to myself, ‘If this is the last time I pitch, I want it to be the best I had,’” Davis said. “I figured if we were going to win I had to strike out a lot.”
“Bethany has been a workhorse for us all year; we’ve leaned on her hard ... she put us on her back today and carried us today,” coach Tom Hamm said.
Although the defense committed two errors, it did not allow any Pulaski baserunners to advance past first base.
East’s offense had nine total hits, including three by Sarah Rainwater and two by Boston.
“(The seventh inning) was really intense because I was the first up to bat,” Boston said. “I was nervous; I was actually in tears.”
In the bottom of the seventh inning, with the scored tied 0-0, Boston led off the frame with a single to center field. Olivia Day was put in to run. Ashlyn Dray came to the plate and laid down a bunt single. Hamm waved Day down to third, but she could not beat out the throw from the first baseman and became East’s first out of the inning.
The No. 9 hitter, McKayla Staton, singled into right field to put runners at first and second base, but Shaylin Pryse hit into a fielder’s choice and Dray was thrown out at third base for the second out.
With two down, Underwood drew a walk to load the bases for Rainwater. She got the bat on the ball and pushed it just out of the reach of the pitcher and a few feet short of the shortstop. Staton came in to score, everyone was safe, and East Jessamine was rushing the field to celebrate.
“When I turned around at first, I saw (Staton) score. I threw my helmet (in the air),” Rainwater said.
Underwood came charging in from second base with her helmet raised over her head. Hamm threw his hat and sunglasses into the air, and the team mobbed Staton and Rainwater.
East Jessamine softball was champion of the 12th Region and headed to state.
“(I’m feeling) a lot of emotion and a lot of nerves. I’m proud of every one of these girls,” Hamm said. “They’ve been through a lot this year and pulled through it and showed a lot of heart. I couldn’t be more proud of them than I¿am right now.”
“I wanted to jump up and down, but I kind of can’t,” Hall said.
Following the game, the all-tournament team was announced. Haylee Hamm, Boston, Davis and Underwood were selected for East.
After hoisting the championship trophy, exchanging hugs and congratulations with teammates and parents, its was time for coach Hamm to make good on a bet.
The team gathered at the pitcher’s circle, East brought out a boombox and Hamm did “The Dougie” dance.
East Jessamine is one of 16 schools headed to the KHSAA softball state tournament in Owensboro. The tournament runs from Thursday through Saturday. It is double-elimination format, and each school is guaranteed at least two games. A school must win at least five games to win the tournament.
“It’s a grueling schedule for these girls, and (state) isn’t going to be any different,” Hamm said. “But if we play the way we played (against Somerset) and (against Pulaski County), with the kind of heart we played with, I think we have a legitimate shot to make some noise.”
The Lady Jags play Thursday at 5 p.m. against Allen County-Scottsville (36-4-1). The Lady Patriots won the 15th District and the 4th Region. They have won 12 straight games and have not lost since May 9.
In the most recent 2011 KSCA Coaches Poll, published on May 17, Allen County was ranked No. 3 behind No. 1 Ballard and No. 2 Christian County.
Last season, Allen County-Scottsville was a win away from the championship.