HAMILTON – Hamilton slow-pitch softball coach Bryan Loague has seen his tenth-place hitter Hailee Jones hit plenty of long balls in practice.
Against division opponent Smithville, Jones finally made it pay off in a game with her fifth-inning two-run homer to lift the Lady Lions (14-4, 6-0 Division 4-1A) to a 5-4 win to take the Division 4-1A title outright on Tuesday.
“Hailee (Jones) may be one of the strongest girls I have, but she just hadn't put it together in a game yet,” Loague said. “That's what I told her when she came by is that it's amazing what can happen when you hit the sweet spot of the bat.”
Hamilton started the scoring off by capitalizing on a pair of Smithville errors in the bottom of the second.
Addie Thompson and Hope Manasco led off the inning with back-to-back base hits, but then Myiah Dobbs loaded the bases up when she reached on a dropped ball in the outfield. Hamilton got on the board with a sacrifice fly from Hallie Dobbs and made it 2-0 when Jones reached on a misplay on a pop up in the infield.
“Those errors were a product of nerves and mental mistakes,” Smithville coach Jeremy Duke said. “I thought we played excellent defense other than those two plays and that we hit the ball harder and better than we have all year. We had a lot of hard outs tonight, and I hope we can build and continue to work on that each day. I thought we hit just as well as they did tonight with the exception of the two home runs.”
Smithville answered with a four-run third inning.
Lane Kennedy doubled down the left field line with one out, and after Angel Guyton's fly ball to move her to third, the Lady Noles rallied with two outs. Breanna Edgeworth knocked Kennedy home with her RBI single, and hits from Claire McNeese and Laken Armstrong loaded the bases.
Morgan Barrett capitalized on the situation with her two-run single, and Katie Beth Williams followed with an RBI single.
Alison Atkins' solo shot over the left field wall cut the gap to 4-3 in the third. Dobbs led off the fifth with a single before Jones launched her two-run shot for the lead.
Smithville threatened in the top of the sixth when Williams led off with her third hit of the game, but Atkins, Hamilton's pitcher, snagged a liner from Ashtyn Hensley and fired to first for the double play.
For Hamilton, Jordyn Jackson finished with a pair of singles, while Smithville got three hits from Williams and a pair each from Kennedy, Edgeworth and McNeese.
“We didn't play very well or hit the ball like we're supposed to tonight,” Loague said. “There was a big crowd and a lot of nerves tonight, and we didn't play like we're supposed to. I think we'll be ready, and they will regain their composure. We haven't played in a week, and once we get back in our rhythm, we'll be okay.”
The win gives Hamilton the Division 4-1A title, while Smithville, whose only two division losses came from the Lady Lions, secure second place.
“I think it's going to be fine coming in second and that sometimes it gives you a better spot going in to the playoffs,” Duke said. “They know what we're fighting for.”