Just when the Jonesville softball team’s magic carpet ride was about to fly to new heights, the rug was pulled out from underneath them and a tough life lesson was served up.
The Comets blew a 3-0 seventh-inning lead and were just one out away from advancing to the regional finals, before Manchester stormed back and shocked Jonesville fans, players and coaches by scoring the game-winning run on an errant throw to first base.
After getting just one hit in the first six innings off Comet ace, senior Kelsey Aemisegger, the Flying Dutchmen came alive in a matter of minutes to put an end to a phenomenal few weeks that saw Jonesville go from an 11-18 team to a near-regional finals squad.
“I told them that unfortunately the lesson we learned was that you have to stay focused for seven full innings, that’s why we play seven innings,” Jonesville head coach Richard Alvarez said. “We lost our focus that last inning and they didn’t. They kept playing for seven innings and we didn’t.”
Alvarez said his girls were high on adrenaline heading to the final inning, but he was still cautiously nervous.
“I believe when you get a team that is that good you can’t let them stick around, you can’t let them think they have a chance,” he said. “I didn’t think three runs was enough and I was trying to motivate my girls to score more runs…but we let them believe they had a chance and they kept fighting and it worked for them.”
Manchester’s comeback started with run-scoring doubles by Roxanne Rickert and Jordan Ridenour, but an Aemisegger strikeout left the Flying Dutchmen with two outs and fleeting hope.
That’s when Nicole Jackson hit a run-scoring single, and she scored the game-winning run not a minute later when the next batter hit a ground ball that was fielded well, but thrown past the first baseman.
An immediate silence engulfed the home team’s stands and Alvarez tried to find some purpose in the difficult defeat.
“We talked about using this as a building block. I (said) earlier that all year long we’ve been using these losses as building blocks for what’s coming down the road,” he said. “I talked in the dugout about those players returning — lets use this to take the next step. I’ve always believed that when you get in tournament play and playoffs it’s always a progression — you have to learn to win, then you have to learn to get in the playoffs, then you have to learn to play in the playoffs.”
Jonesville could not have asked for a better start to Saturday’s contest, as Brooke Nichols tripled, before scoring on a Kelly White single in the bottom of the first. The following inning, Jenna Kast got on base thanks to a dropped third strike and errant throw by the catcher, and she eventually scored on a wild pitch.
The Comets added an insurance run in the sixth when Megan Rowe singled, stole a pair of bases and scored on an error, but ultimately it wasn’t enough.
Aemisegger was still stellar in defeat, allowing just four hits and confusing Manchester players by effectively throwing pitches with three distinctively different speeds.
Alvarez called her his “horse down the stretch” and he said she would be difficult to replace next season.
“She’s a very dominant pitcher on the mound and she’s a very good team leader, so yeah it’s going to be tough to replace all four of my seniors. They know I look to them for that leadership, but we’ve got the program going where I’d like it to be and we’ve got younger players coming up and we want to reload, not rebuild.”
Clinton went on to win the regional title, with a 13-0 win over Manchester.