Jets run out of fuel early as Randleman’s Rice collects 10 strikeouts

BY VICTOR HENSLEY, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/25/21

SILER CITY — It was all fun and games until Sarah Rice showed up on the mound.

From there, it was all missed swings, empty bases and mounting deficits.

The Jordan-Matthews Jets softball …

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Jets run out of fuel early as Randleman’s Rice collects 10 strikeouts

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SILER CITY — It was all fun and games until Sarah Rice showed up on the mound.

From there, it was all missed swings, empty bases and mounting deficits.

The Jordan-Matthews Jets softball team ran out of fuel after a successful first inning against the Randleman Tigers at home on Tuesday, falling 15-5 in just five innings in their season-opener.

While it was drizzling for most of the contest, it wasn’t the steady downpour of rain that stopped play earlier than seven innings. It was the mercy rule.

When a team is down by 10 runs through five innings — as the Jets were on Tuesday — the umpires call it. Game over.

However, the final score implies a blowout, one where Jordan-Matthews had no chance at earning the win.

In reality, that wasn’t the case. The Jets had a shot — at least until Rice took the mound.

Rice, a senior committed to play at Mount Olive University, an NCAA Division II school in Eastern N.C., next season, struck out 10 batters in 4.2 innings, walking just two and allowing zero hits and zero runs.

She single-handedly halted an offense that was hot and appeared to be getting hotter.

In the top of the first inning, Randleman capitalized off of a couple of early walks and errors, including a couple of wild pitches from sophomore pitcher Macy Beavers, making it 4-0 from the get-go as J-M immediately dug itself into a hole.

However, the Jets hit Randleman’s sophomore pitcher Mackenzie Roach just as well.

A half-inning later, the Jets got on the board with relative ease by virtue of a couple of extra-base hits — an RBI triple by freshman Logan Gunter to make it 4-1 and a double by senior Eve Long — which led to timely errors, two of which resulted in two runs to make it 4-3 and, most notably, superb baserunning, something they did well all night.

With runners on the corners and junior Erin Maddox at the plate, junior Auburn Campbell dashed to steal second, forcing Randleman’s catcher to try and throw her out. The ball sailed past the second baseman, allowing freshman Ragan Smith to score and Campbell to reach third. Tied ballgame, 4-4.

A wild pitch to start off the next at-bat allowed Campbell to score, giving the Jets a 5-4 lead with one out in the bottom of the first inning.

“I was impressed with the way the girls battled the whole game,” said Rick Willoughby, the Jets’ head coach. “The girls never gave up.”

At that point, it appeared that Jordan-Matthews had all of the momentum, primed to put more runs on the board in what was already an impressive first-inning scoring party.

But Rice came in and popped all of its balloons.

She struck out the last two batters to end the inning, foreshadowing how the rest of the game would go for the Jets.

The second inning would see the Tigers tie the game at 5-5 off of a back-to-back double and single, but the Jets allowing one run was relatively minor compared to what was still to come.

Meanwhile, Rice struck out the side in J-M’s next trip to the plate. She was doling out seemingly unhittable pitches to Jets batters, who were able to work her in the count a few times, but never able to wear her down.

“They had great pitching. That’s probably some of the best pitching we’ll see all year,” said Willoughby. “I think we’re competitive, we’ve just got to step it up as far as our hitting and get our timing down on that fast of pitching. We haven’t seen it.”

The third and fourth innings would spell disaster for J-M as the Tigers would tally seven hits and 10 runs in those innings alone, blowing the game wide open.

It all took a turn for the worst when a Jets error in the outfield allowed Rice to score and drive in two other runners on an inside-the-park home run in the third, making it 9-5 in favor of Randleman.

“We had a few unforced errors where we could have kept it closer and gone the whole seven innings,” said Willoughby. “We need to get rid of the unforced errors and the mental mistakes.”

The Jets wouldn’t score for the remainder of the game, only reaching base twice after the first inning on a hit-by-pitch in the third and a walk in the fifth.

While Jordan-Matthews fell victim to the mercy rule on Tuesday, Willoughby took solace in the fact that the Tigers were forced to bring in Rice in the first inning after the Jets took the lead rather than give her the night off.

“They didn’t think we were as good as we are,” said Willoughby. “I think that was a little bit of a wake-up call for them that they can’t pitch their backup pitcher against us. They’re going to have to bring their best if they want to beat us.”

As the game went on, the Jets never got down on themselves. The players continued to pump each other up while one of them was at the plate, even when they were down by 10 runs and their chances of a comeback were slim.

By their demeanor, you would have thought they were the ones with a big lead.

This is all by design, something that Willoughby preaches: stay positive, no matter what.

“Always stay upbeat, always stay positive and if you make a bad play, the play’s done, let’s keep playing,” said Willoughby. “The girls know that as long as we get a chance to bat, we’re still in the game.”

Then, he added with a laugh, “I’m glad we got to see (Rice) today. I need to turn my pitching machine up a little, get those bats a little faster.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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