It’s all about the start, Junction City head softball coach Aaron Craig said. A start to a game often dictates how the rest of the game will go, and that was certainly the case Friday afternoon as JC dropped two games to Emporia.
“It doesn’t matter what sport, the start is going to determine how things go,” Craig said. “I think the pitches were there; we just need to be more locked in right away. Beginning of the game, at the plate and out in the field on defense. In the dugout too, we need to be more focused on what’s going on. It’s a whole team; whatever is going on in the dugout pushes the field. Whatever goes on in the field pushes the dugout. They all have to be connected.”
Junction City saw seven Emporia players touch home plate before they got a chance to take their at-bats in game one of a doubleheader Friday. But, JC settled in and made the rest of the game competitive after the slow start. No runs came across home plate for the Lady Jays, but they were able to slow down the Lady Spartans. JC pitcher Taylor Strickland didn’t let those seven early runs impact the rest of her performance, and she took the remainder of the game one pitch at a time.
“Taylor pitched two great games for us today,” Craig said. “She struggled a little bit lately on hitting her spots, but today she did what we asked her to do. She put the ball where we needed it to be. The umpires zones were a little tight; outside corner wasn’t there for awhile. But, then eventually it opened up. She did a great job, and our catcher, Adrianna Mullins, did a great job just being strong on the plate for Taylor. That’s also a real big thing too; that pitcher and catcher relationship. It definitely helped out and they did a great job together as a duo.”
After falling 10-0 in game one, runs continued to be hard to come by for the Lady Jays. And although the scoreboard was not any indication, they were noticeably making more contact and giving themselves opportunities in game two. This was a point of emphasis for Craig in the offseason.
“That’s one of the things we’ve gotten better at this year is bat on ball,” Craig said. “We have to continue to work to get better at it. We have some hitters; we have some kids that can hit. They have to be more content, more disciplined and committed at the plate, and be more patient and let the ball come to them. We try to reach out and touch someone too much sometimes, and try to get the balls out in front, and settle when the balls come in where we know we can hit them. But, we have improved in a number of areas at the plate this year from last year, and it’s been seen so it’s a positive.”
Emporia took game two by the score of 7-1. As the season goes on, lessons will be learned in defeat. Especially for the young players, who are playing a lot of meaningful innings for the Lady Jays this season.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids right now,” Craig said. “We’ve got four freshman playing for us that we didn’t envision playing for us in the beginning of the year. We’re asking them to be a part of something that’s bigger than they could have ever imagined. We’re asking them to do a lot and sometimes, that pressure,; you need to find out how to handle it. We’re trying to help them the best we can. We are there to support them. It’s just about growing up.”
As the final stretch of the season approaches, Craig hopes the team can remain united as players look to finish the season strong.
“You’ve just got to keep going,” Craig said. “We just have to stay together and just keep each other going in the right direction, and pick each other up. That’s what we have to continue to do.”