By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
The Jefferson softball team wasn’t entirely happy with the road it was headed down this season. Then, about a week and a half ago, the Falcons made some changes.
Those changes have resulted in some strong outings of late, including an 11-0 victory over Struthers on Wednesday at JAGS.
“About 10 days ago, the girls really turned a corner,” Jefferson coach Don McCormack said. “They decided they needed to do more in terms of mental preparation. They’d been relying on their talent. You can only do that for so long. It will catch up to you.
“To their credit, they changed their approach and came back to the ballpark and led Campbell Memorial, 10-0, in the first inning a couple of days ago. They’re preparing for the first pitch instead of working themselves into the game. To me, the change is obvious.”
With the victory over the Wildcats (2-12, 1-8), the Falcons (12-4, 8-1) stand one win away from a share of a second-straight All-American Conference championship. Should they defeat Hubbard on the road Tuesday, it would be the first time they’ve won consecutive league titles since the 1997-98 seasons under legendary coach Rod Holmes in the now-defunct Northeastern Conference.
After a scoreless top of the first Wednesday, leadoff batter Deanna Comp set the tone Jefferson. She clobbered a pitch to left for a single and raced all the way around to third when the ball was misplayed. She scored a batter later on Bailey Beckwith’s sacrifice fly to center.
“Dee in the leadoff spot is a luxury many teams don’t have,” McCormack said. “Really, she’s a No.-3 hitter with a slugging percentage near 1.000. With that, her ability to get on base and her ability to run, she definitely sets the tone for us. When that happens, the rest just falls into place.”
“(Comp) got us excited,” McKenzie Wilber said. “That got us pumped up. She starts it for us and we all follow.”
For her part, Comp approaches her role in a blue-collar manner.
“As the leadoff, I know my job is to get on base as much as I can,” she said. “That sets the tone for the rest of the team and for how the game goes. I know they’ll be behind me and bring me in.”
Starting hurler Alyssa Irons followed with a blast over the center field fence for a 2-0 advantage, her third blast of the season. Sam Hamski followed with a double and Kaycee Fusco doubled her home. Fusco then scored on a single by Carley Truckey.
“They’re a good team,” Struthers coach Sam Ditman said. “They’re a very good hitting team. They’ve all got nice swings, all of them.
The onslaught continued in the second as Irons singled in Comp and Wilber singled in Beckwith and Irons for a 7-0 Jefferson advantage.
“Hitting is definitely contagious,” Irons said.
“When Alyssa hit that (home run), everyone wanted a crack at it,” Hamski said.
Wilber singled again in the fourth and scored after Hamski singled and the ball was misplayed in right.
In the fifth and final inning, Emily Smock singled and scored on Beckwith’s single before Irons singled to plate Comp and Beckwith to close the contest with 1 out.
The early offensive support was more than enough for Irons (10-3), who faced 1 batter more than the minimum with a 1-hitter. She fanned six and walked 1.
“I just worked the plate,” Irons said. “I wasn’t necessarily care-free (after getting the big early lead), but it was definitely a relief to have that cushion.”
“She’s incredible and she’s only a sophomore,” Ditman said. “I was impressed. She’s an all-around good player and a very good pitcher.”
Irons was also the Falcons’ leading hitter with 3 hits, including the homer, 2 runs and 4 RBI.
“Alyssa works very hard 12 months out of the year to be what she is on the mound and at the plate, and it shows,” McCormack said. “She’s taken a giant step from where she was as a freshman to where she is as a sophomore. I hope to be blessed enough to be around to see what she is as a senior.”
Hamski, Truckey and Smock all had 2 hits, Beckwith scored twice and drove in a pair and Comp scored 3 times as Jefferson battered 3 Struthers pitchers for 14 hits and 9 earned runs.
“I like where we’re at 1 through 9,” McCormack said. “I like where we’re at with Lu pitching. And the defense has been tight.”
Alexa Bayus had the lone hit — a bloop single to left in the second inning — for the Wildcats. She also drew the walk as the only baserunner for Struthers.
“She’s a senior and played her whole life,” Ditman said. “She’s been a leader for us. She doesn’t give up on me. She keeps fighting. I’m proud of her.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.