It would have been nice if Georgia Tech has cooperated and gone away when it was down.
The Yellow Jackets spoiled the dedication of Jacksonville State’s renovated softball stadium Wednesday, handing the Gamecocks a bitter 9-7 defeat in nine innings.
It was so close to not being that way. Tech (10-7) tied the game with three runs in the seventh after the Gamecocks had them down to their last strike and won it on pitcher Hope Ruth’s two-run homer in the ninth.
“As a coach you kind of feel like you got kicked in the stomach just because you were so close,” JSU coach Jana McGinnis said. “It was still a good day. Georgia Tech, we went toe-to-toe with them. We make a couple more plays and they’re going home with a loss.”
Before the game, university, city and county officials gathered in front of the pitching circle to cut the ribbon on the new-look stadium dedicated to those who currently and previously called it their home field.
The refurbishments were built around the existing playing field and include chair-back seating, a new press box, concession stand and restrooms, a new plaza entrance and a center-field deck built from the remnants of the old stands. Athletics director Warren Koegel deferred any comment on the project’s cost to the JSU’s physical plant and officials there did not have an estimate immediately available.
Calhoun County commissioner J.D. Hess, perhaps the biggest supporter of JSU softball, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
“It was a special day other than just not getting the win,” McGinnis said. “It was just a perfect day, perfect weather. I honestly never thought I would see this day in my career.
“I’ve been here 20 years and when I took the job (former athletics director) Mr. (Jerry) Cole in our meeting showed me plans for a new softball stadium. It never happened. I’ve seen about three different plans, and this year it finally happened. Even when they said they were going to build it, I said I’ll believe it when I see it. It is hard to believe, but it was worth the wait.”
There is still some work to be done, but Koegel said “you can tell people are already getting comfortable with it.” He believes it is going to be “a great facility for many, many years to come.”
The Gamecocks (7-8) literally came within inches of beating a team McGinnis is convinced will be at the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference and in the NCAA Tournament later this spring.
They had a 7-5 lead in the seventh and the Yellow Jackets down to their last strike.
Karly Fullem lifted a 2-2 pitch ball down the right-field line that senior second baseman Kelci Johnson had in her sights. But the ball was slicing away and ticked off the tip of Johnston’s glove into foul territory. One run scored, Fullem landed at second and Morgan Taylor followed with a single to tie the game.
It was the first error of the season for a player McGinnis says “in practice makes fly balls look easy.” The coach could tell there was potential for trouble when she saw Johnston’s head bobbing as she followed the ball flight.
“There really wasn’t any spin on the ball,” Johnston said. “That was my bad as a player; I didn’t watch it all the way in. I was focusing on just getting the out and didn’t follow it all the way into my glove.
“It’s definitely a tough loss. All the girls played great. We hit the ball great. We just fell short this game, but I’m very confident in the team. Everybody’s looking good. We’re going to do good things this year.”
The Gamecocks rallied from an early 4-0 deficit and took a 6-4 lead with a three-run fourth. Jessica Guy singled home the tying run and Kalee Tabor hit a go-ahead two-run homer. Krystal Ruth singled home another run in the fifth.
Ruth and Savannah Sloan each had three hits for the Gamecocks. Tabor and Cadi Oliver each had two.
Rush got the win after throwing 152 pitches. Freshman Casey Akenberger took the loss. She threw only three pitches, giving up a leadoff double in the ninth before being lifted ahead of Rush’s homer.
“It’s a very tough loss for us to take, but we can learn from everything that we do and we’re going to learn from this loss,” Ruth said. “We’re getting on a bus tomorrow and we’re going to Arkansas and we’re going to win no matter what.
“This is still a great day. Even with that (loss), this is such an amazing thing to have this stadium. To be able to play in it, for me, I’m very happy. Everyone who came out tonight was happy no matter what, in my opinion.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.