CHILLICOTHE — According to head coach Shane Wolford, striking early and often has been a problem for Jackson all season.
Although the Ironladies still won 12 games, they have done so with most of the production happening in the final three innings of their games.
While that formula has had its successes, Wednesday wasn't one of those days as Jackson rallied from down 5-1, but ran out of steam and saw its season end with a 5-4 loss to Unioto in a Division II sectional final.
"We've been guilty of starting late at the plate all season long," Wolford said. "And against a team like Unioto, you can't do that. They're a solid team and I take nothing away from them. They were a little better than we were and we waited too late to generate offense."
Unioto scored the first four runs of the game. It started with a 2-run bomb from Jayla Campbell in the bottom of the first.
"We knew (Campbell) had a lot of speed and we were thinking bunt in that situation," Wolford said. "But give her credit, we called the wrong pitch and she took it for a ride over the fence.
Then added two more runs in the fourth following an RBI double from Clarissa Wheeler and an RBI single by Jerzie Paul.
"We dug ourselves in a big hold being down 4-0," Wolford said. "But the thing about our girls is that they never give up and continue plugging away until they can't anymore."
Jackson finally got on the scoreboard in the top of the fifth with a sacrifice fly from Gabby Webb for a 4-1 game.
Unioto countered back in the sixth with an RBI double from Payton Britton that seemed to be the dagger at the time, but Jackson wasn't finished.
"Momentum can swing at anytime in a game like this," Wolford said. "We've been through battles and this was nothing different. We still had a chance and we kept it."
With runners on first and second with two outs in the seventh, Leah Alford stepped up and roped a 2-run double to right center field to cut the game to 5-3.
Kaylee Bako followed with an RBI single to center field that make it a 5-4 game. But the next batter grounded out to third base and that marked the end for Jackson's 2019 season.
"We've staged some comebacks before this season so I knew that we were capable of putting things together late," Wolford said. "You can only hope as a coach that the kids' mentality is to fight until that final out happens. And they fought hard. I couldn't be more proud of them, I just wish we could have finished."
After losing four seniors who combined to hit 41 home runs last season, it could have been expected for Jackson to have a down year as it tried to find its identity.
Instead of a down year, it found a Frontier Athletic Conference championship and a sectional final appearance. Not bad for a team who might not have had the highest of expectations.
"Losing that kind of production at the plate can create a lot of mystery," Wolford said. "I got the feeling that a lot of people counted us out in our conference, but we kept believing in one another which lead to us winning the conference title.
"We beat a number of good teams this year and I couldn't be more proud of how far the girls have come."
The Ironladies say goodbye to three seniors: Alyssa Helman, Kaitlyn Kight and Sydney Humphreys.
"Sydney has been on varsity starting for me every since I took over four years ago," Wolford said. "She's been a great leader ever since she started. It's going to be very different next year without her being on the field. Kaitlyn and Alyssa started in our JV program and worked their way up. They're great kids who worked incredibly hard and they'll be missed."
While losing any senior is tough, the good news for Jackson is that most of the team returns next year for at least one more year.
While the FAC title was a great start for a retooling team, the expectations are much higher next season with its seven of its nine starters back, including FAC Player of the Year Taylor Evans returning to the circle.
"We weren't nearly as productive at the plate this year, and we're going to work much harder at that during the offseason," Wolford said. "If we want to win games like this one, you have to be prepared to put in the extra work during the offseason. And that's a challenge we're looking forward to."