Jokers complete inaugural season

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 30, 2002

The Jokers 12-and-under girls fast-pitch softball team from Andalusia finished their inaugural season at the Coca Cola/C&M Sporting Goods Classic in Dothan the weekend of June 28-30.

Pool play to determine placement in the single elimination bracket for Sunday began with a victory against the Crestview Diamonds on Friday night by a score of 10-3. The Jokers were not due to start a three-game set until late Saturday. Rain delays pushed the start of the series even further back.

However, this seemed to have little or no effect on the Jokers' determination to go into Sunday with nothing less than a first place seed. Strong pitching, tenacious defense and keen atbats helped the Jokers shutout the Tallahassee Merchants 8-0 for win number two of the tournament.

After a one and a half hour break they began a game with the Enterprise Starz. This was an extremely hard-fought battle ending in a 2-2 tie after reaching the 75 minute game time limit. Enterprise was stiff competition for the Jokers, but the Jokers were equally tough for the Starz. Immediately after this game, the Jokers played the Tallahassee Bullets. It was a game that counted neither for nor against the Jokers but carried them into the early hours of Sunday morning. They handled the Bullets 8-4. With the Jokers having the same record as the Enterprise team, tournament officials had to evaluate tie-breaking categories of runs scored and runs given up to finally determine that the Jokers would enter the Sunday single-elimination bracket as the No. 1 seed.

Sunday's play began with another game between the Jokers and the Tallahassee Merchants. The Merchants came ready to play on an extremely hot and humid morning. Hannah Reynolds started on the mound for the Jokers. Still somewhat fatigued from the late games the night before, Reynolds struggled in the top of the second inning giving up two singles and a walk At that point Joker coaches brought Morgen Battey in to pitch. She gave up a single, but the Jokers got the last two outs to close the inning. However, the Merchants wound up getting three runners across the plate to go up 3-0. The Jokers went down one, two, three in the bottom of the second inning. In the top of the third the Merchants scored one more run. The Jokers decided the bottom of the third was time to kick into high gear. Deeanna Strong led the inning off with a single and Courtney Duke hit the first of two doubles for the game. This put runners on second and third. Hannah Reynolds was at bat with a 2-2 count when the Merchants' catcher dropped the third strike and over threw the first baseman in an attempt to get Reynolds out. Strong and Duke scored easily on the errant throw. Kirby Soles and Jessica Johns each hit singles but no more runs came in before the inning ended.

The Merchants scored another run in the top of the fourth so after three and a half innings the Jokers were down 4-2. To begin the bottom of the fourth Holley Bass got on by an error by the third baseman. Morgen Battey then came up and hit a fielder's choice with Bass being called out at second on a force play.

Almost immediately the Jokers coach appealed to the home plate umpire because the shortstop covering second base pulled her foot off the bag trying to catch the throw. The home plate umpire overturned the call and the Jokers had runners on first and second. Deeanna Strong advanced the two runners on a groundball to the pitcher. Courtney Duke came in and blasted another double to score Bass and Battey. Duke advanced to third on a passed ball. Up to bat with two outs Blanche Alverson walked after getting to a full count. She stole second on a pitch to Kirby Soles. Soles then hit a single to allow Duke to score the game tying run and Alverson scored the go-ahead run. The Tallahassee Merchants' defense ended the inning, but were down 6-5.

The Merchants were hopeful, with the heart of their order coming up in the top of the fifth. The Merchants' lead-off batter struck out, but the second and third batters drew walks. The fourth batter of the inning made it to first on a fielder's choice to load the bases with one out. The next batter fouled out to first baseman Anna Henderson. With two outs the final batter hit a ground ball to pitcher Morgen Battey and she threw over to first to end the game. Battey finished the game with six strikeouts and helped the Jokers earn the right to play in the tournament championship game later in the day.

The Jokers' opponent was determined by a game played between the Enterprise Starz and Crestview Diamonds. The Starz narrowly defeated the Diamonds by a score of 6-4. Rain delays again caused a late start of the seven inning championship game.

The Jokers were first to bat. Enterprise's pitching and strong defense got them out in order. Lefty Hannah Reynolds went to the mound for the Jokers. The Jokers' defense got the first two batters out on a fly ball and a groundout. The Starz's third batter knocked a double to left center and stole third on the first pitch to the next batter, but that batter hit a groundball for out number three.

The Jokers came up in the top of the second inning with hot bats and aggressive base running. Caitlin Edmondson led off the inning with a single. She stole second on the next pitch. Holley Bass then singled Edmondson in, but Bass got out trying for second. After the Jokers had two outs, Hannah Reynolds singled, Morgan Battey got hit by a pitch and Courtney Duke walked to load the bases. Blanche Alverson drove home all three runners. Morgan Weant followed Alverson with a single and Kirby Soles walked, loading the bases again, but Starz pitching closed out the inning. The Jokers ended the top of the second inning up 4-0. A leadoff single in the bottom of the second inning got the Enterprise team started. The second batter struck out, but the third and fourth batters each walked. However, Reynolds struck out the next batter and the third out was a fly ball to the second baseman Kirby Soles resulting in three runners left on base and no runs scored. There was no scoring for the Jokers in the third, fourth or fifth innings. Batters getting on base in those innings were Anna Henderson in the third, Courtney Duke and Blanche Alverson in the fourth inning with Mary Beth Arrington coming in as a base runner for Duke, and Kirby Soles and Caitlin Edmondson got on in the fifth inning. In the bottom halves of the same innings the Jokers really set their sights on the first place trophy. Strikeouts by Hannah Reynolds and defensive gems by infielders Kirby Soles, Jessica Johns, Blanche Alverson and Anna Henderson retired the Starz in order, three consecutive innings. There was no question in any one's mind that the Jokers meant business. The top of the sixth inning started with a single by Deanna Strong. She got around to third on passed balls. A surprise bunt single by Hannah Reynolds allowed Strong to score. Morgen Battey also bunted a single with Reynolds getting to third. Courtney Duke hit a sacrifice fly to center field, allowing Reynolds to tag up and score. Duke finished the tournament with a .857 batting average. Enterprise ended the inning with a double play. The Starz had just two more atbats to make a comeback. They were unsuccessful in the bottom of the sixth, and the Jokers were also unable to do anything offensively, in the top of the seventh.

Enterprise got runners on base and two runs across the plate in the bottom of the seventh, taking advantage of some defensive mistakes. At that point, the Jokers' coaches gathered the team up in the infield, settled them down, returned to the dugout and watched with the rest of the crowd as the defense finished out the inning and the game, earning their first tournament championship trophy of the season.

It was an exciting first season for the Jokers. The players and coaches thank the businesses and individuals who helped sponsor their first season. The players would also like to thank the coaches, parents and friends for all the help and support they received since January.