Janna Beth Marsh pitched a full seven innings to outduel Thomas Jefferson’s staff in a 3-2 win for Bulloch Academy.
Marsh, who’s just a freshman, started in place of regular starters Baylee Howard and MiKay Sands because of a tough schedule of region opponents this week and delivered in a big way. Marsh only threw 70 pitches, 67 percent of them for strikes, and allowed seven hits with just one walk.
“I pitched for three years in travel ball and in middle school,” Marsh said. “So this is something I’m used to. I’ve been pitching since about fourth grade.”
Marsh would leave a total of seven runners on base, forcing a lot of weak ground balls to her infielders who were a perfect nine for nine on converting those ground balls into outs. All of this was a familiar sight to Marsh, who pitched in plenty of critical situations while playing for her middle school team.
“I’ve seen JB pitch in some high pressure situations in middle school,” said BA head coach Kyle Chambers, who also coached Marsh in middle school. “She stayed focused on what she needed to get done and she pitched a great game today.”
Marsh’s only runs given up came in the top of the third. With Bulloch Academy up 1-0, TJ’s Mary Salter would start the inning with a single. Following Marsh’s only strikeout of the game, Salter would steal second on the next at-bat - which ended in a walk to put runners on first and second with one out.
Then Lindsey Sammons laid down a bunt to Marsh, who couldn’t get the ball to first base in time to load the bases. After a lineout to shortstop, the bases were loaded with two outs for three-hole hitter Ansley Lamb - who smacked the first pitch she saw into left field to bring in two runs to put TJ ahead 2-1.
“I was definitely nervous at first with it being my first varsity start,” Marsh said. “But after a couple of innings I finally felt good.”
The Gators would follow with a three up, three down inning, but would come back to take the lead after Marsh responded with a three up, three down inning of her own in the top of the fourth. With one out, Marsh got things rolling on the other side of the bump with a single. Madeline Cowart singled in the next at-bat, then eighth-grader Liv Finley laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Cowart and Marsh into scoring position.
With two outs, Mattie Wynn Hendrix put a bunt down right to third baseman Grace Bridges, who fielded the ball cleanly but put the throw just half a foot too far to the right of the bag at first. The ball bounced off the glove of the first baseman allowing Marsh and Cowart to score, putting the Gators ahead 3-2. All three runs for the Gators came on errant throws to first with two outs.
“When you put the ball in play good things happen,” Chambers said. “We’ve been preaching that all year.”
The next three innings saw TJ leave five runners on base, including four in the last two. The top of the sixth saw two runners on with one out following two singles, then a sacrifice fly to move both runners into scoring position. Marsh then forced a pop-fly to shortstop that was corralled by Newton to escape the sixth.
The seventh saw nearly identical trouble. After playing a flawless defensive game, Bulloch Academy committed back-to-back errors, the latter on a pop-fly -whose drop caught the runner at first off guard and allowing McKenzie Crooms to throw the runner out at second.
BA wasn’t out of the woods yet. A double from Susanna Hall put the tying run on third and the go-ahead run at second with two outs. But Marsh, as she had done all game, forced a soft ground ball to third on the next pitch to end the game. An impressive debut for a freshman’s first start.
“The defense had my back all game, so even when things got hairy at the end I was never worried,” Marsh said.
Offensively BA had seven hits, six of which were singles. Newton came away with the only extra base hit in a double, and ended the day going 1-3 with a walk and a run scored. Hendrix, Regan Ellis, Sands, Marsh, Cowart and Finley would each get hits, while Marsh and Cowart would score the other two runs.
“We definitely had to make adjustments at the plate after seeing Pinewood’s pitcher,” Newton. “Either way I think we hit pretty well as a team.”
Bulloch Academy (4-9, 1-1) hits the road to start back region play today when they face Edmund Burke (6-3, 0-2) at 4:00 p.m.