The Lady Gladiators haven’t been waiting a whole week to play this one. They’ve been waiting a whole year. After the Meridian Lady ’Jackets knocked Italy out of the playoffs last season during their regional quarterfinal matchup, head coach Jennifer Reeves, along with her assistant coaches Tina Richards and Andrea Windham, has been tracking this one on the calendar ever since.
With Senior pitcher Courtney Westbrook leading the charge, the Lady Gladiators grinded out a 4-1 win on Thursday in Joshua. Battling a headache, humidity and Meridian’s batters’, Westbrook came thru for her teammates going all 7 innings, and her teammates had her back as well.
Second baseman, Cori Jeffords had a career game against Meridian which is just what Westbrook needed. Jeffords was all over the field tracking balls hit into the outfield and backing up first base. Jeffords fielded 5 grounders throwing to first base for the outs and caught 4 fly balls as well, including the game ender.
Jeffords was a real life Red Bull® commercial and credited the pre-game drink with her energy burst. “I drank a whole can before the game,” said Jeffords.
As amazing as her performance was on the defensive side, it was on the other side of the wall in Joshua that Jefford’s may most be remembered. In the regional quarterfinal last season against Meridian, Jeffords belted an over the fence homerun in an 8-7 loss to the Lady ’Jackets.
On Thursday, Jeffords repeated herself and sent another ball over the wall in Joshua. A solo shot, that travelled about 220 feet to clear the centerfield wall, gave Italy a 2-0 lead.
“I was so happy for Cori. Defensively, she had the game of her life. I felt the homerun was the back-breaker for Meridian,” commented James Viers regarding the Jefford’s highlight reel performance.
Senior first baseman Drew Windham continues to be a leader for the Lady Gladiators as well. After a stellar performance throughout the district schedule, Windham has been a consistent performer during the Lady Gladiators’ playoff run. Windham’s battle at the plate against DeLeon’s pitcher, in game one of the bi-district round, helped to force a bad pitch allowing Anna Viers to score the only run of the game for a 1-0 Italy win.
Windham’s pop-up catch at first base versus Tolar to end game 1 of area setup the bottom of the 7th inning heroics by Megan Richards who belted a 3-run game winner in game two to win the championship.
Also quietly leaving her mark in the playoffs is sophomore Bailey Bumpus who made a dramatic catch to secure a 3-2 bi-district win over DeLeon in game two and has been reliable hitter at the plate for Coach Reeves contributing to the come from behind win to end the area series against Tolar.
Freshman sensation Anna Viers continues to be Italy’s lead-off weapon and Megan and Alyssa Richards, “Sisters of Smash,” are armed and dangerous with a bat in their grips. Outfielders Meredith Brummett and Alma Suaste are proven hitters as well. Brummett put the ball in play all game against Meridian and earned a walk while it was Suaste who singled and eventually scored Italy’s first run on Thursday.
“Dugout Divas” Drenda Burk, Khadijah Davis, Casi Jeffords and Katie Byers are ready to contribute when called on but also serve as cheerleaders for one of the most entertaining dugouts in softball.
Italy vs. Meridian – Game 1:
Top of the 1st inning:
Lead-off batter Anna Viers battles to full count but Meridian’s pitcher gets the strikeout. Megan Richards grounds out to second base for out number two. Alyssa Richards grounds out to second base also as Meridian gets three up, three down.
Bottom of the 1st inning:
Italy’s second baseman Cori Jeffords fields a grounder and flips the ball to Windham on first base for the out. Meridian hits a fly ball to centerfield but Italy’s Bumpus runs up under it to make a great grab, 2-outs. Meridian hits deep to right field and Suaste runs back and gets her glove on it but the ball pops out and lands at the base of the fence. Suaste got the ball in to hold Meridian to a triple. Westbrook strikes out the next Lady ’Jacket batter for out number three, still 0-0 moving into the 2nd.
Top of the 2nd inning:
Jeffords gets walked. Windham pops one vertical and it’s caught by Meridian’s catcher for the first out. Bumpus lays down a sacrifice bunt advancing Jeffords to second base, two-outs. Brummett flies out to first base for out number three.
Bottom of the 2nd inning:
Westbrook registers a strikeout. Meridian drops one into shallow right field near the foul line. Jeffords, from second base, tries to make a play on the ball but it lands between Suaste and Jeffords, Meridian has one runner on base. The next batter gets hit and is awarded first base.
Italy’s Coach Reeves argues the call suggestion the batter leaned into the pitch. The umpires huddle but the call is not overturned. Meridian now has runners on first and second base.
Westbrook strikes out the next Meridian batter. The next batter pops up to Jeffords at second base for the third out. Italy dodges trouble as the Lady ’Jackets strand two.
Top of the 3rd inning:
Suaste hits one back to the mound that deflects off the pitchers glove and then is bobbled by the shortstop. Italy has a runner on first. Westbrook strikes out. Viers strikes out. Megan Richards singles over second base. The pop fly scores Suaste from second base, Lady Gladiators lead 1-0. Alyssa Richards drives a fly ball deep to centerfield but the Meridian outfielder reaches up for the grab to end the half-inning.
Bottom of the 3rd inning:
Meridian hits a grounder to Jeffords who catches it clean and then zips a throw to Windham on first base for the just-in-time out. Meridian hits a high pop-up to Jeffords who makes a confident catch for out number two. Meridian hits a sharp grounder toward left field. Viers, at shortstop, took a stab at it but the ball snuck thru, one runner on for the Lady ’Jackets.
Meridian hits a single into Italy’s outfield. The throw to second base sailed over but Windham at first base backed up the play to hold the runners on first and second. Windham, old reliable.
Meridian’s next batter hits a bouncing grounder over first base. Jeffords backed up the play perfectly and threw to Windham for the third out, again Meridian leaves two runners stranded.
Top of the 4th inning:
Leading-off, Jeffords clobbers the ball and launches it towards centerfield. It’s going…it’s going…it’s gone! The solo homerun shot cleared the wall and landed at about the 220 foot mark, that’s 20 feet beyond the wall. The feat marks the second time in Jeffords’ career that she has put one over the fence in Joshua. 2-0 Italy.
Windham singles past Meridian’s shortstop to get on base. Bumpus strikes out and Windham gets thrown out trying to steal second. Brummett pops up to third base for the third out.
Bottom of the 4th inning:
Westbrook strikes out the first batter. Meridian hits a grounder thru the infield gap to right field. Meridian’s next batter drops one into left field where Brummett catches it on the hop and throws to Megan Richards at third base to hold the Lady Jacket runners on first and second.
Meridian mistakingly hits another pop-up to Jeffords who makes the sure catch for out number two. Meridian then grounds out to Jeffords who throws to Windham on first for the out.
Top of the 5th inning:
With one out, Westbrook pops one up foul and Meridian makes the catch between their dugout and home plate for the second out. Viers gets walked. Italy’s next batter grounds out. Meridian sits down but the humidity and Italy’s extended at bats seem to be wearing down the Lady ’Jacket pitcher.
Bottom of the 5th inning:
Westbrook strikes out Meridian’s lead-off batter. Viers catches a high pop up at shortstop for out number two. The next batter hits a first pitch grounder to Jeffords who makes a strong throw to Windham covering first base to retire the side.
Top of the 6th inning:
Italy’s Alyssa Richards singles between shortstop and third base to get things started. Jeffords takes a walk. Windham gets walked as well to load the bases with no outs. Brummett walks to score Alyssa Richards making the score 3-0 in favor of the Lady Gladiators.
Suaste gets walked and Jeffords crosses homeplate for the second time, 4-0 Italy. Meridian makes a pitching change with the bases still loaded. Westbrook strikes out. Viers grounds out down the first base line getting tagged. Meridian gets out number three to flee the top half of the inning before any more damage can be done.
Bottom of the 6th inning:
A now tiring Westbrook, drenched in sweat, delivers four straight balls walking Meridian’s first batter. Westbrook wipes her brow and throws 2-strikes to the next batter. Then a ball and three foul balls later, Westbrook earns the strikeout.
Westbrook keeps battling and strikes out the next Lady ‘Jacket batter for out number two. Meridian hits a grounder to Viers at short. Viers guns down the runner at first to a stretched out Windham who holds her form while the Umpire makes an emphatic out call. Italy’s defense gets their pitcher (Westbrook) off the field.
Top of the 7th inning:
Italy tries to add to their lead. Megan Richards leads-off with a shot into centerfield for a single. Alyssa Richards flies out to centerfield and then Jeffords sends a fly ball into centerfield for out number two. Windham flies out to shallow left as Meridian’s defense gives their offense a chance.
Bottom of the 7th inning:
Meridian leads off with a shallow shot to left field. Brummett throws into Westbrook standing at the mound. Meridian hits another grounder at Jeffords, and again, Jeffords flawlessly fields the ball and flips it to Viers covering second base to get the force out.
Meridian hits a centerfield double to score their first run of the game, 4-1 with Italy still in control. Meridian hits a grounder to Megan Richards on third base who snags the waist-high grounder and throws to Windham on first to beat the Lady ’Jacket runner for out number two.
Italy needs just one more out to end the game. Westbrook fights thru exhaustion and a severe headache to deliver a fastball over the plate. Meridian pops it up to, “Guess who?” Jeffords of course, who rushes in to make the shoestring catch for out number three, ending the game. Westbrook finishes with 7 strikeouts.
Italy wins game one of the best 2-out of-3 series 4-1 over Meridian. Both teams will square off on the diamond in Joshua, Saturday, May 15 at 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. if needed.