May 9—JACKSONVILLE — Saturday's home softball doubleheader against Southeast Missouri was mostly about pride for Jacksonville State, and the Gamecocks' pride took a dent.
JSU lost both games 10-5 and 3-2. The Gamecocks already were assured of making the four-team Ohio Valley Conference tournament later this week in Oxford, and Saturday's two losses combined with Austin Peay's doubleheader sweep of Eastern Kentucky clinched the No. 4 seed for the Gamecocks. SEMO's win in Saturday's opener clinched the No. 1 seed and the regular-season championship.
JSU (22-23, 20-13 OVC) entered with 10 wins in its previous 12 games, while SEMO (28-14, 23-5) now has seven straight league games.
The two teams will finish the regular season with a single game Sunday, then meet in the opener of the OVC tournament Thursday at 1 p.m. at Oxford's Choccolocco Park.
If there's a positive note going forward, it's the pitching of Reagan Watkins, who pitched a two-hit complete game in the nightcap of the doubleheader. Two of the three runs against her were unearned. She struck out three.
SEMO entered having hit .330 against OVC competition, and that led the league by a large margin.
"Of course, we want to win, but little things make the big things happen, I guess," Watkins said afterward.
Watkins is nearing the end of her softball playing career. In fact, she went through graduation exercises this past year and is starting down the barrel of moving on with life. She said that had caused a little bit of "subconscious anxiety" that she's managed to settle.
"I didn't realize it affected me," she said. "I've been, 'Oh, man, I've got to go out on a positive note. I've got to be perfect.' And, it's hard to be perfect. Honestly, trying to be perfect isn't getting the job done."
Watkins said she also learned from the efforts of JSU's three pitchers in the first game: Nicole Rodriguez (three innings, five runs), Alexus Jimmerson (two innings, four runs) and Lexi Androlevich (two innings, one run).
"Nicole, Lex and Lexi did a great job of telling me, 'Stay low, stay on the corners.' And, just throw my pitches," Watkins said. "So that's what I tried to do — stay on the corners and let the defense work. It wasn't a high-strikeout day, but that's OK as long as we're getting outs."
JSU appeared headed to a tie in the second game when Watkins led off the bottom of the seventh with a double. She moved to third on Keeli Bobbitt's sacrifice bunt. Then with the team's top pinch-hitter at the plate, Alex Howard, pitcher Rachel Rook's fastball got away from catcher Chelsy Pena. It hit the backstop just perfectly and went right to Pena, who tossed to Rook. When Watkins arrived home, Rook had the ball and was waiting to tag her out.
"Right to her, man, right to her," Watkins said. "I've never seen one go into the catcher's mitt like that. If I'd known it was going right into her glove, I wouldn't have gone. That was frustrating. I felt like I had almost taken the breath out of us when I could've just waited for Alex to get her base-hit like she was going to do."
Rook then struck out Howard to end the game.
What to know
—Megan Fortner hit a home run in the first game, and in the excitement, the spectator who caught the ball in the left field bleachers fell down. It was her seventh homer of the year.
—Jada Terry was 2-for-4 in the first game with a double and two RBIs. Karsen Mosley was 3-for-7 for the day with her fifth homer of the year.
—Bobbitt was 1-for-3 with two walks and the sacrifice bunt. She scored twice. She has reached base five times on her last 10 plate appearances.
—Head coach Jana McGinnis on the play in which Watkins was out at home: "On the last play, eight times out of 10, the ball doesn't shoot back right into the catcher's mitt. That's just a tough break. When I saw the ball tip the glove and go back, I thought, 'She's going to score.' Then it hit right on the edge and went right back to the catcher. It's just tough luck there."
—McGinnis on the second game, in which SEMO scored its runs with the help of six walks and two JSU errors: "Disappointed in our defensive play. Kind of disappointed in our hitters. Felt like we should've had better at-bats."
—When JSU hosts SEMO on Sunday at 1 p.m., the program will honor four players who are finishing their careers: Watkins, Terry, Jimmerson and Rodriguez. Watkins, Terry and Rodriguez could play one more year because of the NCAA's blanket waiver to athletes whose seasons were cut short last spring because of COVID-19, but they're going to go ahead and graduate. Also, JSU will honor Ryann Luna, a catcher who was a senior last year. She bypassed her extra year, too, and didn't return for the 2021 season, but the Gamecocks want to give her a sendoff they didn't get the chance to do last year when COVID-19 ended the season suddenly.
Senior Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.