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Jesuit softball answers the bell, beats Westview

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Defending state champions win a huge Metro League showdown on the road

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit first baseman Reyan Tuck touches home plate after her solo homer against Westview.

That eulogy you had penned for the Jesuit softball team's season?

The rough draft death notice praising their past existence while pronouncing the Crusaders' time of death?

Might want to rip it up. 

The defending champs are far from departed. The Crusaders are alive and well. In fact, after losing in consecutive weeks to Glencoe and Beaverton, Jesuit just might have found its stride at the most opportune time thanks to a huge win over a deep-rooted nemesis.

Thanks to yet another well-crafted outing in the circle from junior ace Olivia Strickland, a big hit from burgeoning catcher Annalisa Williamson and a four-run geyser in the seventh inning, Jesuit was able to withstand archrival Westview 5-0 on Friday at Westview High School. The double-edged win moved Jesuit (20-2 overall, 11-2 in league) into a three-way tie with Glencoe (18-3 overall, 11-1 in Metro) and Westview (18-4 overall, 11-2 in Metro) for first place in the Metro League with three games to go. 

"We're going for blood when we play these other teams now," Williamson said. "With the name on the front of our jerseys, everyone comes ready with their 'A' game. Those losses were wake-up calls for us, but we're ready now."

The preconceived chinks in the Crusaders' armor were just that after playing arguably its most well-rounded game of the season to this point against the four-time defending league champions who rarely lose on their home turf. 

"We're not playing around anymore," Jesuit junior shortstop Jenny Marnin said. "It's hard coming off everyone saying 'You're not the team you were last year. You're not as good as you were last year'. That's going to piss a lot of people off (on the Crusader squad). It was a slap in the face, but now we've got fire in us. We're not ready to lose again."

The playoffs notwithstanding, this game was a pivotal point in the year for both sides. Each long-standing power wants an outright Metro crown and a more preferable path through the postseason. Generally, winning Metro means clinching one of the top three seeds in the 6A bracket, especially if the league champ's non-league resume´ stands up strong in the power rankings. Plus, this rivalry is year-in, year-out the best softball feud in the conference — two juggernauts putting on defensive clinics while pitching effectively and mounting rallies at the plate. And in a campaign where at least four teams have the potential to make the 6A quarterfinals, Friday's competitive showdown was a microcosm of what's transpired in Metro this year. 

"I think we could see (Jesuit) again (in the playoffs)," said Westview junior outfielder Reece Martin. "I have a feeling that we might. The Metro has been insane this year. It's always been us and Jesuit at the top, but a lot of the younger girls on the other teams are coming up and forming alliances with each other. It's not about stars anymore because nobody really has a star. Metro is all about being a team this year. There's not one person who's going to win the game for you."

It feels like each Metro clash has come down to a momentum-swinging play or two, which was the case on Friday. 

Westview freshman pitcher Kendall Gantz was rock-solid for six innings against the reigning champs, with her lone mistakes coming by the bat of Williamson and Katie Corah. After swapping scoreless stanzas Williamson doubled off the wall in right with two outs in the top of the sixth.

"It was what we needed — it started to push the wall down," Williamson said. "My biggest thing is trying to hit a hard line drive. I just want to get the ball in play and get a base hit. I wasn't aiming for the fence, but the wind just happened to be blowing out and it pushed it toward the fence."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit junior pitcher Olivia Strickland threw a complete game shutout against Westview.

And, Corah raked a double to left just over the speedy Martin's outstretched glove, which brought home Williamson and gave Jesuit a 1-0 lead.

"(Corah) is a quiet hitter, but she hits in the right moments," Strickland said. "As a team, we want to make sure anyone in our lineup can get that big hit that we need. Everyone has that potential. Whether we've been hitting great or not, whether a player is all-league or not or has great stats, we all focus on working hard and just putting the bat on the ball."

Meanwhile, while Jesuit was able to create its own fortune, Westview couldn't muster the same sort of mojo. In the bottom of the sixth Westview catcher Natalie Munson blasted a deep ball to left that looked gone from the jump, but actually lost steam thudded against the left-field fence and caromed to Corah who quickly fired the ball back to the infield to prevent extra bases. Munson was moved to second on a single by Valeti Fifita, but was ultimately stranded at second.

In the top half of the seventh Jesuit junior Grace Kyle came in off the bench and singled to begin the stanza. The southpaw-swinging Jaclyn Flood followed by swatting an opposite-field double to left that scored Britney He and extended the Crusader lead to 2-0. Flood stole second and scored on a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.

"Not everybody is going to play a perfect game, so when you have an off day, you have to be dependent on your teammates to pick you up," Marnin said. "We had that today."

Jesuit first baseman Reyan Tuck added a towering solo shot that cleared the fence in right to pad the Crusader lead to 4-0. And Williamson administered the death blow with a RBI double to left-center that stretched the lead into insurmountable territory, seemingly.

Westview roared back in the bottom of the seventh, piecing together three straight singles to load the bases with nobody out.

"We had a couple of rough innings, but we never let down and that's what I'm the proudest of," Martin said. "I'm proud of the team for never giving up and staying up through the whole game."

But, Strickland coerced a comebacker to the circle and threw home for the forceout. And with the bags still juiced, Strickland fooled the always dangerous Ananya Koneti with something filthy off-speed that the tall first baseman swung and missed at. Down to a final out, Westview junior Kelsey Day hit a ball right to Jesuit second baseman Sammie Petit for the final out.

Facing the heart of the Wildcat order with the Westview bench trying to cause a commotion with positive verbal energy and their fans urging on the rally from behind the backstop, the seasoned Strickland stayed centered on the task at hand. The first-team all-state selection coldly worked in tandem with Williamson to quickly put an end to the threat and throttle Jesuit back to the top of Metro.

"Westview makes a lot of noise in the dugout and it can get pretty distracting sometimes," Strickland said. "But I just focused on the pitch (Williamson) put down (as the catcher). It's hard to fail when you do that."