The combination of boosted confidence at the plate and the performance of reliable sophomore pitcher Madalyn Morton has made Jamestown the team to beat in Group 4A Conference 18 softball.
Guided by first-year head coach Tony Short, a travel coach veteran who had been an Eagles assistant the previous three seasons, Jamestown was 9-3 overall entering Tuesday's game at home against 3A Warhill. A defeat in that one, to the unbeaten Lions, would not detract from what Jamestown has accomplished this season. An upset win, on the other hand, would probably yield a Gatorade tsunami and vocal outage for Short, who touted his team's offseason commitment for raising the standard of the program. Warhill claimed the first meeting 7-1, a respectable result for an Eagles team that is on pace for one of the best seasons in school history.
At the plate, "They're not going up there hoping they're going to get a hit," Short said. "They're thinking they're going to get a hit."
Three Eagles are batting better than .400: Ariana Reynolds (.462), Madison Maharty (.415) and Kailey Smith (.405). Morton (.361), Tara Rowden (.333) and Molly Lee (.303) comprise the next tier. Maharty, the catcher, leads the way in run production with 20 RBIs.
Jamestown had won six of its last seven games entering Tuesday. In the 3-2 loss to York, Morton fanned eight batters, three more than York pitcher Chelsea Evans, a St. Joseph's University recruit.
Morton, sporting a 1.4 earned run average, has a screwball in her arsenal that tends to baffle batters.
She said her last outing, in Friday's 10-0 win over Lafayette in five innings, wasn't her best performance. She allowed two hits and struck out one.
"She works hard," Short said. "She throws a lot even on her off days. She definitely works on her craft and in pitching, anyone will tell you: It takes a lot of bucket time, a lot of muscle memory. And she has been regimented with her warm-ups, icing and heating her arm like she needs to and that's really important."
Having more year-round players like Morton is Short's goal, and a necessity to compete for high school championships.
The Eagles, who have five seniors, anticipate having enough numbers next year for a junior varsity squad.
Jamestown is on pace to win the top seed in its conference, thanks partly to a 3-1 victory over Grafton on April 14, marking the Eagles' first win over the Clippers in school history. Jamestown also toppled usual Bay Rivers District heavyweight Tabb.
Smith, a senior shortstop, has had the hottest bat of late with a recent 10-game hit streak while also notching a single, double and triple in consecutive games.
"I think we just have really good team chemistry," Smith said. "In years past, we've always struggled with bunching hits together, and we're finally able to do that. And our defense is impeccable, so it's all coming together."
Short, who helps coach Warhill star pitcher Keely Rochard in travel ball, believes the senior's departure to Virginia Tech after this season will open up competition in the area for next season.
The Eagles are champing at the bit.
"With Madalyn being only a sophomore," Short said, "I think we'll be the team to beat for the next two years."
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.