August 18, 2010 10:03:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Julianne Jackson has had a lot of responsibility for the Starkville Academy softball team this season.
She''s handled the bulk of the pitching duties for the first time in her career and spent numerous hours trying to perfect a swing that hadn''t previously utilized her power.
Fifteen games into the season, she''s the Lady Vols'' No. 1 option in the circle and has become an effective pull-hitter and is currently the team''s cleanup batter.
Both skills were on display in Tuesday in Starkville Academy''s 15-1 win against Heritage Academy as Jackson earned a one-hit pitching win and was 3 for 3 at the place with two doubles, a triple and five RBIs.
Three weeks ago, though, Jackson might have struggled to consistently put the ball in play.
The junior had been struggling mightily to stay behind the ball as years of planting most of her power onto her front leg proved to be a hindrance in utilizing her hand speed and power.
"With her performance on the mound, and how consistent she''s been this year, you just can''t ask for any more for her to be able to hit the ball like she''s been doing," Starkville Academy coach Jessica Dickens said. "We''ve worked on tee drills, hands-back tees and everything we can think of to help keep that weight back. The main thing with Julianne is mentally making herself do it. She''s capable of doing anything, but the main thing is getting over those bad habits she''s had. It did look effortless today."
Jackson said she feels comfortable with her improved swing because of the extra time she''s dedicated and the tutelage from Dickens and assistant coach Kyle Morgan. She admits it''s been difficult learning to become an effective pitcher while working to perfect her swing.
"I''ve had great coaching and a lot of support so even though it''s been difficult at times, it hasn''t been more than I can handle," Jackson said. "They spend time with me a lot and I try to come out here before practice and get a little bit more batting practice on the tee to try and get that swing down. Pitching is something I enjoy and work at so when I work at it and come out here I feel comfortable."
Meanwhile in the pitching circle, Jackson struck out four batters in three innings in a much-needed win after the Lady Vols (7-8) lost their first two conference games to Magnolia Heights and Washington School this week.
Finding a new pitcher to replace Lyndsey Haynes was a point of emphasis heading into the season and Jackson''s progression as a pitcher has revolved around her changeup, Dickens said. That pitch, along with working to stay ahead in the count, has helped Jackson throw less pitches and preserve her arm strength for longer durations.
"She started off red-hot and her changeup has come a long way," Dickens said. "It''s not going to be significantly slower, like something you''ll see that''ll freeze the batter, but just enough to get them off balance. It''s one of her best pitches and she''s learned to use that at the right time and effectively. Julianne has become a much more effective pitcher."
Though Jackson is still growing into her new position, she agrees with Dickens that she''s become an effective starter. What''s helped support the switch is the support of her teammates, Jackson said.
"The way I think is, I''m here to play a game and I have a great team to back me up," Jackson said. "Whatever team we play, I still take it inning by inning and just focus on each pitch to each batter. I''m just trying to do my part."
Starkville Academy senior Bailey Wofford was 3 for 3 with three RBIs, while Kristen Phillips and Brooklyn Waldrep each registered a hit for Heritage Academy, which remains winless.
Both teams return to action this weekend at the College Exposure Tournament in Starkville.
1. EMCC offense having fun COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Mullen wants MSU to clean things up, get healthy COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Big region games on deck for locals LOCAL COLUMNS
4. Mullen balances calling plays, running team COLLEGE SPORTS
5. Columbus awaits region showdown vs. No. 3 Tupelo HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS