OTTUMWA — The first two weeks of the high school softball season have been frustrating for Zoey Jones.
After injuring her wrist while catching the second game of Ottumwa’s season on opening night at West Des Moines Valley, Jones could only watch as her Bulldog teammates took their cuts at the plate both during practices and during games over a 10-day span. The OHS junior is making up for lost time since returning to the line-up late last week, collecting four more hits in a CIML Metro doubleheader sweep of Des Moines East on Monday night.
Ottumwa routed the Scarlets twice, needing just 10 combined innings to put away a 12-0 win in a four-inning opener before closing out a 13-3 win in a six-inning nightcap. Kacy Nickerson ended the doubleheader driving in two runs with a two-out double to left, preventing Jones from going after her fifth hit of the night.
“It was really frustrating to either watch practice, keep the (batting) tee for my teammates or catch pop flies. There just wasn’t much I could do,” Jones said. “The whole time I was out, I kept asking Coach to put me back in. She didn’t want to risk hurting me even more with regional tournament games coming up. When I got the chance, I proved I was ready to be back.”
Mandi Moore, Ottumwa’s first-year head softball coach, talked about having to hold Jones back to ensure her starting outfielder and catcher was closer to full strength before letting her get back into action for the Bulldogs.
“I know she’s been wanting to get back out there for several days, but Coach hasn’t been as eager without her healing up a little more,” Moore said. “I kept telling Zoey to take her time and work on getting healthy. The good news about the timing of the injury is we still have plenty of time left this season.”
Jones was healthy enough to return to the line-up Friday at Marshalltown, going 3-6 with two RBI and a run scored in a road sweep of the Bobcats. Saturday was even better for Jones, who was right in the middle of two competitive games at the Solon Tournament.
After being robbed of a game-tying RBI single in the bottom of the seventh, allowing fourth-ranked (5A) Iowa City High to hold off OHS 5-4 in the opening game, Jones collected three hits, drove in a run and scored twice late in a 7-3 win over Solon.
The seven hits in 14 at-bats since returning from injury earned Jones a new spot in the Ottumwa batting line-up on Monday. Normally position in the lower third of the order, Jones was moved all the way up to the No. 2 spot behind Kacy Nickerson, Ottumwa’s only batter with 20 hits so far this season.
“I always think when you mix up the line-up, it pushes everyone a little more,” Moore said. “Zoey definitely earned that spot. She’s hit the ball extremely well coming back from her injury.
“I was pretty surprised. I thought Coach would have me bunt a lot,” Jones added.
After striking out swinging in her first trip to plate as the No. 2 hitter, Jones collected her 10th hit of the season during a nine-run rally in the second inning of game one. The Bulldogs cashed in on an error that extended the inning, allowing Ottumwa to plate eight unearned runs with seven straight hitters reaching base.
Kaylee Bix, who moved from No. 2 to No. 3 in the order, had the key blow in the second-inning rally with a bases-clearing double to put Ottumwa up 5-0. Bix went 4-7 on the night with four doubles, five RBI and four runs scored.
“There’s some pressure being moved into a different spot in the line-up, but it’s an opportunity to prove to everyone you belong in that spot,” Bix said. “It opened up some extra chances for us to score. Zoey’s really fast and does a great job getting on base. I’m not as fast, but it gave me a great chance to drive in more runs when both Kacy and Zoey can get on in front of me.
“I thought it was a good idea to move Zoey up. Zoey’s a really good ball player who works hard at everything she does. It doesn’t surprise to see how far she’s already come after the injury.”
Nickerson also tossed a four-inning no-hitter in the pitching circle, allowing just one walk to Nevaeh Moon in the bottom of the first inning of game one. Ashton Brown, who overcame control issues to earn the win against Solon on Saturday, overcame home runs from Mo Purdy and Madi Inman striking out 10 Scarlets while walking just two batters in the nightcap, giving Brown a team-best five wins in the pitching circle so far this season.
Ottumwa erased a 2-0 deficit with a pair of runs in the bottom of the first in the second game before scoring six times in the second inning to take the lead for good. The Bulldogs (8-5, 2-0 Metro) head to Des Moines Roosevelt for a conference doubleheader Wednesday starting at 3:30 p.m.