By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

Most times, a baseball or softball box score doesn’t tell much of a story. In the case of Holy Spirit’s softball game against Our Lady of Mercy Academy on Tuesday, the box score told an eye-popping, almost unbelievable story.

What seemed like a run-of-the-mill early season Cape-Atlantic League softball game on a Tuesday in April turned into a game that players involved will be talking about for the rest of their lives. An epic matchup between two very good pitchers left Spartans coach Dennis Smith nearly speechless. And anybody who knows the longtime Spartans girls basketball coach and current softball skipper understands it’s not easy to leave him without words.

Smith described the numbers his freshman, Gabby Jones, and OLMA junior Emma Douglas put up as something you’d see in a video game — and he’s not exaggerating. Jones, in just her second game of varsity softball, struck out 21 batters in 13 innings, walked only four and allowed just one run. Douglas fanned an almost unbelievable 31 batter — and lost the game.

The game was scoreless through 12 innings as Jones and Douglas matched zeroes. In the top of the 12th — the fifth straight inning in which the international tiebreaker rule was used, meaning the inning started with a runner at second base — OLMA pushed a run across on an RBI by Catherine Dodd. But then Holy Spirit, down to its final out with runners at second and third, scored a pair of runs on an infield error to walk off with a thrilling 2-1 victory.

Holy Spirit and OLMA were scoreless through 12 innings on Tuesday before the host Spartans rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 13th inning to walk off with a 2-1 win. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Juli Fortis)

“I knew it was going to be a 2-1 or 1-0 type of game. Their pitcher, Emma Douglas, is a tremendous pitcher, and we have a pretty good pitching staff this year as well. My freshman, Gabby Jones, started and she’s a very good pitcher who came in this year. I knew it was going to be a low-scoring type of affair, just like the game against Middle Township (on Thursday, a 2-1 Holy Spirit loss to the Panthers),” Smith said. “Did I think we were going to strike out 31 times? No. Did I think it was going to 13 innings with the tiebreaker rule? No. Do I like the tiebreaker rule? No. The reason I say that is every single pitch is magnified and every single play is magnified. It’s very stressful. It’s stressful across the board — for the fielders, for the pitcher and catcher, for the coaches who are calling pitches. It’s just really stressful.

“We had multiple opportunities in the first seven innings to score runs but Emma did a nice job for OLMA getting strikeouts and not allowing us to put the ball in play,” Smith added. “That’s truly what it boiled down to — we couldn’t get the ball in play to get a run in. We had second-and-third with one out and we had bases loaded with one out, and couldn’t score.”

OLMA believed it had taken a 1-0 lead in the 12th inning on a sacrifice fly, but coach Smith appealed to the umpires that the runner at third had left too early after tagging up.  

“They thought they had taken a 1-0 lead, our girls thought we were down 1-0, but we appealed it, the umpires saw it, but then we couldn’t get anything across in the bottom of the 12th,” Smith said. “When OLMA scored in the top of the 13th I turned to one of my assistants and said, ‘I’m playing the bottom of the 13th for two runs because I can’t do this anymore.’ I had already told my pitcher she wasn’t going out for the 14th inning.”

Holy Spirit freshman pitcher Gabby Jones finished with 21 strikeouts, while her counterpart, OLMA junior Emma Douglas, had an incredible 31 Ks in 13 innings. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Juli Fortis)

With two on and two out, freshman Madison Berry grounded a ball in the infield, but a throwing error allowed both Mary Kate Armstrong and Frankie Lane to scamper home to end the game.

“At that point, it only takes one play to either win or lose the game,” Smith said. “I tell my runners, in a situation like that you’re running all the way and I’m winding you even if you’re on second base, because if something happens I want that second run to score. Now, in that game-winning situation, I REALLY wanted that run to score. At that point, we celebrated. It was a ground ball to second base and OLMA thought they had the game won. You want to talk about a swing of emotions — it was one of the best high school events I’ve ever been involved in, and I’ve been involved in a lot. It was a really well played game on both sides. It was a great experience.”

Smith gave a ton of credit to both pitchers, and knows how gut-wrenching it was for Douglas to come up on the short end after such an incredible performance.

“I can’t even imagine what Emma was feeling. I feel like she was throwing just as hard at the end as she was in the beginning. She was a true bulldog, and so was Gabby. I didn’t even know what to say after that game. I felt bad for OLMA because I’m trying to imagine if it had flipped and we had lost 1-0, I would have felt so bad for us. It was one of those games where you were wondering what was going to turn the game. And it was just a play where we put the ball in play and got two runs out of it,” he said. “I was really proud of Gabby. She struck out 21 batters — these numbers, I feel like if there was an MLB Softball game on Nintendo or Xbox, these are the numbers you’d be putting up with your pitcher, 21 or 31 strikeouts in a game. That’s what it felt like. I’ve pitched in the past in fastpitch leagues but I can’t even imagine pitching in a game like that.”

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays