Adairsville senior pitcher Victoria O'Neal continued her strong start to the season with a complete-game gem against Armuchee, leading the Tigers to a 5-1 home win Saturday morning.
After tossing four scoreless frames out of the bullpen Thursday to help Adairsville outlast Model in nine innings, O'Neal struck out a dozen Saturday, giving her 20 Ks on the year, as she and the Tigers each moved to 2-0 on the young season.
“I think so,” O’Neal said of carrying momentum from Thursday's performance into Saturday. “I think a lot of it has to do with everybody really lets me know how much they appreciate me. I think it helps to know that when I step out there that from previous games I know that they have my back, so it’s easier to throw when you’ve got that kind of confidence.”
O'Neal ran into trouble a couple of times against Armuchee, but whenever she felt the need, the right-hander seemed to find another gear. She also seemed to get better as the game went along, aside from allowing back-to-back doubles to lead off the seventh inning that accounted for the visitors' lone run.
“I think she was throwing harder as the innings went,” Adairsville head coach Amanda Nelson said. “She was determined and working for a shutout. She’s always competing, working for something. You could see that in every inning today.”
Even if she came up a little short in her shutout efforts, O'Neal managed to go the distance. That ability was even more vital Saturday, when the Tigers were without their other top pitcher, Taylor Rhoades. Thankfully a much-improved defense has allowed O'Neal to pitch a little looser this season.
“I’m kind of proud of myself at this point,” O’Neal said. “I’ve struggled for a long time having much confidence in myself. I feel, with this group of girls, I’m able to have that, so I’m proud about that. They all back me up, so it makes it easier to pitch on the mound. I’m just glad that I can get out there to throw to let them work and help us win games.”
It also certainly helped that O'Neal was able to pitch a majority of the game with a lead. After struggling a bit in the opener against Model, Adairsville's bottom of the lineup came through in a big way Saturday.
In the bottom of the second, McKenzie Pullam drove in Alyssa Jarrett for the game's first run. Megan Gregory scored later in the inning on an error for a 2-0 lead. An inning later, Makayla Wade had an RBI groundout, and Gregory singled home a run. Following her second hit of the game, Pullam scored on a fifth-inning double by Chloe Souders for a 5-0 advantage.
Wade, Jarrett, Gregory and Pullam were the Nos. 5-8 hitters in the order Saturday.
“We do have a lot of young players learning — this is a new level for them — but to see them put the ball in play is wonderful,” Nelson said. “Our lineup from top to bottom can put the ball in play. We just need to learn to make those little adjustments to do it the right way. We saw that today, and we’ll hopefully continue to bring that mentality to the plate.”
It was a vast improvement from Thursday, when the Tigers had seven strikeouts and a handful of weak popups. O'Neal and Nelson both credited the improved approaches to a Friday morning hitting session.
“We made some adjustments, moving from our last game into this one that we had talked about,” Nelson said. “We came out Friday morning and practiced. It was nice to see them come out, make some adjustments, put the ball in play and not pop it up. We have to carry that into Tuesday’s game.”
After a pair of wins over lower-classification competition, Tuesday's contest against defending Class 3A state champion Ringgold will be a measuring stick to see just how far Adairsville has come.
“2-0 is great,” Nelson said. “I want to see our girls play our level of softball that we’re capable of no matter who we’re playing or what our actual record reflects. Bringing it out here day after day and playing Adairsville-level softball is real important to us.”