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Apr. 18—JACKSONVILLE — After battering Ohio Valley Conference teams at the plate, Jacksonville State's Alexus Jimmerson picked a different way to blister them Saturday.
In the second game of a doubleheader sweep of Eastern Illinois, Jimmerson relieved Game 1 hero Hannah Brown with two outs in the first inning. She then proceeded to pitch 6 1/3 scoreless innings to help clinch another win for JSU.
Jimmerson didn't let up at bat, either, as she went 4-for-7 for the day with a pair of doubles and four RBIs. As JSU is fighting to stay in the race for an OVC tournament berth, Jimmerson is living up to her reputation as the calm presence in the middle of the storm. She has had at least one extra-base hit in nine straight games, and during that stretch, she is 17-for-31 with five doubles, five homers and 12 RBIs.
"When we need her the most, she comes through," JSU coach Jana McGinnis said.
McGinnis' Gamecocks rallied from a five-run deficit for a 10-8 win in Game 1 and came back from a three-run hole to win 8-3 in Game 2. The sweep was especially important for JSU (15-19, 13-9 OVC), which even after all the struggles this season is now in fourth place in the league. Because the pandemic has delivered a big financial hit to OVC athletics programs, only the top four teams will be included in the league's postseason tournament, instead of the top eight.
EIU (19-13, 11-9) entered the day in fourth place but is now in sixth. Murray State (14-10 OVC) is fifth. Tennessee Martin (9-9) is in sixth, followed by Tennessee Tech (10-11).
Jimmerson deserves her share of the credit for the important sweep, especially at the plate.
"I just feel like I'm not taking anything for granted," said Jimmerson, a fifth-year senior who took advantage of the NCAA's COVID-19 waiver to play this season. "I'm focused on each pitch I get. I'm trying to put a good swing on it every time."
As for pitching, she produced her best performance of the season Saturday. With JSU down 3-0 in the top of the first, Jimmerson relieved Brown, who was brilliant in relief in the Game 1 win. She allowed only one hit and four walks the rest of the way.
"She came in and she took command of the pitching circle," McGinnis said. "Everybody could see that. They felt it. We felt like if we can make plays behind Lex, we're going to come in and score."
Jimmerson got ample help from her defense. Freshman right fielder Shelby Newsome threw out a runner at third base who was trying to tag up from second. She also made a running catch in the seventh inning. Shortstop Chaney Phillips made a diving catch on a sinking liner, and another dive snared a grounder, which she turned into a force out at second base.
First baseman Megan Fortner joined the fun by diving to snag a sharp grounder that appeared headed to the outfield for extra bases.
"Seeing them make big plays behind me is what motivates me to work for them in the circle," Jimmerson said. "Seeing Shelby throw that runner out at third was a big moment and boost for us. Chaney and Megan making those great plays in the infield just pumped me up and motivated me to keep doing my job."
In Game 1, JSU fell behind 7-2 in the top of the fourth. The Gamecocks posted six runs of its own in the bottom half of the inning. Newsome delivered a two-run single, and Jimmerson had a two-run double. Phillips' double brought home two more runs.
Alex Howard's two-run single in the sixth gave JSU a cushion.
Brown worked the final 3 1/3 innings in relief of Reagan Watkins and allowed only one earned run. She struck out three and gave up three hits.
Newsome's hit during the rally was just part of a big day for her. She had three hits in the first game and three more in the second. She also drove in five runs of the day. The freshman had gone 1-for-19 in the previous six games.
"It's one of those things where today it looked like a beach ball," she said. "I've been kind of waiting for it."
She also had her first collegiate homer in the second game.
"She's been squaring the ball up, but she hasn't had much of anything to show for it lately, until today," McGinnis said. "But, I've always felt when she's 0-for-whatever, she's competing at the plate. And with a hitter who competes at the plate, good things are going to happen."
What to know
—Senior left fielder Jada Terry was 4-for-7 for the day with two doubles and her eighth homer of the year. She now has 99 career hits and 12 career homers.
—Fortner was 3-for-7 after having gotten one hit in her last 12 at-bats.
—Center fielder Keeli Bobbitt was 2-for-6 and has seven hits in her last 18 at-bats. After a horrific early season slump, her batting average was .105 nearly three weeks ago. It's now at .200.
—Newsome on what Saturday does for her going forward: "It's a boost of confidence for sure, but the team was needing for it to come around, so I'm glad it finally did."
—McGinnis on Jimmerson's pitching: "When we're down and out and put Lex in there, she seems to weather the storm and help put us back on the right track. It just says a lot about her as an athlete and a person. Lex cares. There is nobody else in the dugout who is in every pitch and every play like Lex is. She pulls for everybody. She's such a good team player."
—McGinnis on Jimmerson's hitting: "We know Lex is a good hitter. We've known since we recruited her. She and Jada (Terry) have been our most consistent hitters, and I've always felt that if Lex can get going, it's going to raise everybody else to her level. When Lex is really feeling it is when she's line-driving the outside pitch. Then when they come inside, she hits it over (the fence)."
—McGinnis on Newsome: "Shelby is going to be a special player. We've seen it throughout practice. I can't believe she hadn't had a home run until this point because she's powerful and has good control at the plate."
—JSU and EIU will play again today at noon at the Gamecocks' University Field.
Senior Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.