Blossoms show no mercy in doubleheader

MONTICELLO — Arkansas-Monticello softball coach Alvy Early said earlier in the week that if Cotton Blossoms were going to catch Great American Conference leader Southeastern Oklahoma State, the bats were going to have to wake up and produce some runs down the stretch.

The Blossoms (18-10, 6-2) took heed on Saturday, pumping out 32 hits in a doubleheader sweep of Henderson State (15-20, 7-11) winning by the eight-run mercy rule in both affairs, 9-0 and 16-8, at Blossom Field.

Senior Kayla Jackson (13-4) allowed just one hit in the first game that was shortened to five innings and came on in relief of freshman Katie Slaughter early in the second to record both wins on the mound. Slaughter ran into trouble as UAM trailed Henderson State 3-1 with one out in the second inning when Early wasted no time going to Jackson.

“We want the four wins, obviously,” Early said, anticipating today’s second scheduled twin bill. “We still have two to go. Katie’s inconsistency has been that she can go out and throw a shutout one day and not get out of the first the next game. She really wasn’t throwing bad pitches. At the point I went and got her she had given up five hits and three runs and only four outs. I just didn’t want to give them anything else.”

After fanning seven in the opener, Jackson made quick work of the rest of the second, recording two straight strikeouts to retire the side. Jackson then drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the frame, giving the Blossoms its final lead at 4-3.

The Lady Reddies did challenge Jackson for the remaining 4 2/3, touching the hard-throwing right-hander for 10 hits and five runs. But UAM continued to pressure Henderson State’s defense with solid contact at the plate and by hitting a pair of home runs as Jackson and designated hitter Taylor Russell went deep.

The Lady Reddies crawled back in the game at 7-6 in the fourth inning as Slaughter’s velocity dwindled and Henderson State’s bats came to life. After a brief discussion with catcher Brittany Eitel to discuss strategy, Jackson took some speed off her pitches and kept the Lady Reddies off balance just enough.

“I think it was a little fatigue,” Jackson admitted. “And they had seen me and started hitting some good pitches. We decided to change it up a little bit and try to keep them off balance. They had seen me for 10 innings. I think the first game (today) will be fine. I will come out fresh and new again.”

Early said Jackson will get the call in today’s opener with Slaughter still on tap for game two.

“I don’t know how effective she will be,” Early said of Jackson. “But (Slaughter) could do better, too. I usually don’t follow (Jackson) with (Slaughter) but I don’t know. If I start (Slaughter) in the first game and she does well, then we have (Jackson) fresh for the second game.”

Jackson was near perfect at the plate with a 2-for-2 performance in the first game and three hits in five trips in the second, driving in four total runs and scoring twice. Russell was 4 for 7 on the day with five RBIs, and third baseman Sara Matthews was 4 for 7 and drove in three. Jennifer Hickman was 3 for 5 in the day cap and Eitel and second baseman Summer Huddleston picked up two hits in each game.

Today’s doubleheader is scheduled to begin at noon at Blossom Field.