Jackson does it again

MONTICELLO — The Arkansas-Monticello softball team reduced its magic number to one Saturday afternoon with a 3-0, 3-2 doubleheader sweep of Southwestern Oklahoma State at Blossom Field.

UAM (34-14, 20-4 Great American Conference) needs to take one of two from the Lady Bulldogs (29-17, 13-13) in today’s twin bill to capture the inaugural GAC title.

“We got those two big ones (on Saturday) and that puts us in position to win a conference title (today),” UAM coach Alvy Early said.”

Kayla Jackson (26-6) turned in a possible career-defining moment with a no-hitter in the opener then limited SWOSU to three hits in the daycap. The senior righty struck out nine in the no-hit affair and overcame a 2-0 first-inning deficit in game two to put the Blossoms in position to capture the regular-season title and a possible NCAA South Regional bid along the way.

“Considering the magnitude of what was riding on that game she went and gave the performance you wanted from her,” Early said of the near-certain UAM Hall of Famer. “With the conference on the line, she goes in and turns in a biscuit.”

The Blossoms pounded out 11 hits in the opener, with third baseman Sara Matthews turning in a perfect 3-for-3 performance with two RBIs. Maggie Sands, Jennifer Hickman and Katie Bowman collected two hits each off SWOSU starter Katie Rains (10-8).

With every no-hitter there is usually one key defensive play. Hickman made a diving catch over the second base bag that saved the no-hit bid in the sixth inning.

“She comes up with plays like that all the time,” Early said.

Hickman said she understood the ramifications when she came up with the ball, which was showing out of the end of her glove.

“I had to shake it off and just keep playing,” Hickman said of moment. “I knew exactly what it meant at the time, but I had to maintain composure and keep playing”

Jackson said she had to get over some early jitters.

“I was really nervous in the first inning,” Jackson said. “I don’t know why, but I was. Once that inning was over I settled down and felt good the rest of the game. I was focused coming in and felt confident. Even after they scored the two runs in the first inning of the second game I didn’t worry because I knew we could score at least two runs.”

After the dominating win in the opener, the Blossoms had to scratch out a win in the closer, scoring a run on an error with two outs in the bottom of the seventh for the sweep. After Jackson flied out to start the final frame, Taylor Russell doubled in the left-center field alley and Matthews was hit by a pitch to put runners on. Brittany Eitel walked to load the bases and Beth Johnson attempted a squeeze bunt, but the Lady Bulldogs cut down the runner at the plate.

That set the stage for Katie Bowman, who hit a routine grounder to SWOSU second baseman Audra Chambless. Chambless bobbled the ball just enough to allow all runners to be safe, including Matthews who touched the plate for the game winner.

Jackson is expected to get the nod in the circle today as she continues to set the all-time win mark at UAM. First pitch is at noon.