Head coach Aaron Craig has learned a lot during his four years being a coach at Junction City. Whether it’s coaching football or softball, or any sport for that matter, one thing that remains constant is how big a deal it is facing off with Manhattan High School.
He had that in mind when his softball team hosted Manhattan Friday.
“This is my fourth year here, and coaching football, Manhattan’s huge,” Craig said. “Anytime you get a chance to play your 30-minute away rival, it doesn’t matter what it’s in. It could be rock, paper, scissors — it’s Manhattan. It’s not pressure — it’s energy. I said it yesterday in an interview; I said ‘Hey they’re playing for the silver trophy in football so let’s play for the silver softball.’ So that should be some added energy and excitement. Not really pressure, just let’s go.”
After getting run-ruled 11-0 in the fifth inning on Friday afternoon in first game of the team’s doubleheader against its rival, the Lady Jays flipped the script for game two. Sophomore pitcher Megan Hunt took the mound in hopes of splitting the series with the Indians.
After getting in an early 3-0 hole after the second inning, the Lady Jays settled down and managed one, two, three-out innings in both of the third and fourth innings. In the sixth, the Indians scored three more runs to make it a six-run differential. But, the Lady Jays were not done fighting.
In the bottom half of the sixth, Delani List lead off the inning with a base hit to center field. Two batters later, Adrianna Mullins hit a grounder to short, who then decided to make a play at the plate. List was safe at home on the play, putting the Lady Jays on the board for the first time of the afternoon. Two batters later, with two outs against her, Hunt clobbered a double off the wall, scoring two JC players to pull to within 6-3. That’s all the damage they ended up doing before ending the game in the seventh on the double play, but the Lady Jays never gave up. They were down by a combined 17-0 on the day at one point, but still battled. It showed a big improvement for the Lady Jays from a year ago.
“Last year we struggled with that,” Craig said. “Last year we would get run-ruled, and then we would get run-ruled. The transition never occurred to put the first game behind you to improve on what you needed to improve on to make the second game better. These girls tonight did a great job. Coach King and myself, we gave them some points of interest; we challenged them and they stepped up to the plate. It didn’t end with a win, but at the same time we won from the standpoint of, we corrected a number of things that we didn’t do right in the first game. Our energy level was better, our focus was better, our communication was better, and our commitment at the plate was better. Defense was just more zoned in on what we needed to do. We had two spurts in the third and fourth where we only had six pitches. There were a number of positive things to build off that and the girls did. Then you got yourself in the seventh inning, 6-3, let’s go and get some runs. It’s something we can build on; our girls have got to continue to build on that. Forget the past, focus on the present and move to the future. And that’s what we have to do.”
Despite the loss, the Lady Jays will look to use the momentum they gained from the later innings in game two for the rest of the season. The remaining schedule won’t be easy, but there are still many games to play and a lot to learn.
“We have a solid schedule, it doesn’t matter who we play — our teams are going to be competitive,” Craig said. “Centennial League is a very competitive league. Shawnee Mission West is coming in Monday; don’t know a lot about them. They’re coming from the Kansas City area, so it’s a great opportunity to learn from another team. Maybe they present something like an angle or strategy that we need to get better at. Then we travel to Topeka-Seaman Friday next week, and then we just start rolling. Our season goes really fast. We’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity and relish each moment and take full understanding of what it presents.”