Columbus High School shortstop DeAndreya Sykes swings at a pitch Friday in the team’s doubleheader sweep of Jackson Jim Hill in the opening round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class III State tournament. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
October 10, 2017 10:45:03 AM
Eric Thornton doesn't anticipate his Columbus High School slow-pitch softball team to be fazed by the prospects of facing five-time state champion Neshoba Central at 5 p.m. today in the second round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class III State tournament.
After all, Neshoba Central beat Columbus in the second round of the Class 5A-6A State tournament in 2015 en route to its fourth-straight championship. A year ago, Columbus lost to New Hope in the first round. Neshoba Central then eliminated New Hope en route to its fifth-straight state title. The playoff experience means Columbus shouldn't be awed by the opportunity to face one of the state's best programs.
Considering Neshoba Central also has won five-straight state titles in fast-pitch softball, too, it would easy to understand why Columbus might be intimidated by the thought of going to Philadelphia for a best-of-three series.
But Columbus has overcome its fair share of adversity and injuries this season, so Thornton believes his players will be ready.
"I told the (Monday at practice) outside of the people here there are not a lot of people who give us a chance, and I think of that as a benefit for us," Thornton said. "We don't have anything to lose. A lot of people look at it and say the pressure is on us, but I look at it as the pressure is on them so they don't have somebody come in and steal it from them."
Columbus (18-7) is coming off a sweep of Jackson Jim Hill on Friday in the first round. Thornton said his team hit the ball well in the two games, even if it didn't hit any over-the-fence home runs. Still, the Lady Falcons had "eight or nine" triples, according to Thornton, and had an inside-the-park home run.
Thornton said Columbus will have to make Neshoba Central earn everything it gets because he is confident the reigning state champions will hit the ball. He feels his team will hit the ball too and is anxious to see how his players respond.
"I feel we're going to give it our best shot," Thornton said. "It is kind of like other upsets you might not have expected. It is kind of like that mentality going in. At some point, somebody had to beat them, so why not have it be us?"
Thornton believes Columbus will be able to have that mind-set because it has come together in a season that featured the death of senior Taylor Harris, 16, in August. Harris was driving east on Highway 82 near Columbus with fellow CHS softball player Keayra Hughes in the passenger seat when the car ran off the road and collided with a guardrail at the intersection of Highway 45 South, according to a press release from Mississippi Highway Patrol. Hughes was airlifted to North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo with serious injuries. Harris died at the scene.
With six seniors, Thornton said the players have supported each other and have had the depth to overcome the setbacks and injuries to other players. He said the players responded in their first games following the accident to win two district games at South Panola. Thornton said the players made a point to want to play for Harris and have used her death as motivation.
"They dedicated the season to her," said Thornton, who added the team retired Harris' No. 9 during the team's senior night ceremonies. "They said they wanted to meet the expectations she would have for the team."
Team members are: Berniya Hardin, Aniya Saddler, Tavorian Congious, Princess Taylor, Tierra Ledbetter, DeAndreya Sykes, Krishauna Jethrow, Nakia McBride, Haleigh Gore, Iciona Tillman, Keayra Highes, Tiquasha Wilson, and Makaijah Taylor.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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