HAMILTON — The Lady Lions love the long ball.
Buoyed by an eight-home run evening, the Hamilton High School slow-pitch softball team defeated East Union 15-8 and 14-5 in a best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 2A North Half State playoff series.
Chauncia Willis had two home runs and Hannah Howell, Shelby Savage, Katie Beth Dahlem, and Lexus Jordan had home runs in the first game. Howell and Dahlem connected again in the nightcap to lead the hot-hitting Lady Lions.
“We have just been practicing hard and we want to win, so we”re going to hit where we need to hit it,” Howell said. “If they”re playing us at the fence, we”re going to hit it over the fence. It works.”
Howell, a left-handed hitting catcher, credited her father, Mark, the principal of Hamilton High, for teaching her her swing. It”s a natural, effortless stroke, just like her father”s, that is bound to produce home runs if she remains patient and keeps her weight back.
Problem is, Hamilton hasn”t stayed disciplined at the plate and has been through its share of ups and downs.
Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest said the Lady Lions struggled in the middle portion of the season to get as many as four hits. Things have picked up recently, though, and he hopes the Lady Lions can continue their power hitting for at least another week.
“We have hit like that at times this season, but we have been up and down all year,” Earnest said. “The last two weeks we have hit more like that and a lot better. The last five or six games we have been averaging more than 15 hits a game.”
Howell said the Lady Lions are used to going through roller coaster rides during the course of a season. Still, she said she didn”t have any doubt the Lady Lions were going to come together at the right time.
“I knew we were going to do this,” Howell said. “We have got to go (to Jackson).”
The sweep earned Hamilton (15-9) the opportunity to play host to Baldwyn on Tuesday in a best-of-three series to determine the North Half State champion.
The winner of that series will advance to the state title series against the South Half State champion Saturday at the V.A. Fields in Jackson.
Dahlem”s grand slam in the top of the seventh inning of game two proved to be the back-breaking blow. The blast carried over the right-center field fence and into the open hatchback of a red car parked just outside the fence.
Dahlem said she was only trying to get a hit and not do any damage to the car.
“I guess I did everything right and got it out,” Dahlem said.
Dahlem said the recent rainy weather has forced the team to spend a lot of time practicing its hitting. She said the work has helped everyone feel relaxed, which is a key to getting a little lift on the ball and being able to drive it out of the park.
“I think we think about it too much at times, but when we calm down that”s when we hit the most of them,” Dahlem said.
Willis said staying relaxed will be the key to extending the long-ball run. The power-hitting first baseman turned 18 Friday and planned to celebrate her birthday Saturday after the two victories. She decided to get the party started a little early with two home runs in game one and a single and two more RBIs in game two.
Willis isn”t surprised the Lady Lions” bats have come together.
“We have talent and we can do it,” Willis said. “We just have to stay calm and focused.”
Savage, Lyndsey Williams, and Dahlem had RBIs in a three-run fifth that gave the Lady Lions the lead for good.
Allison Atkins, Anna Imel, Caitlyn Atkins, Savage, Jordan, and Willis also had hits in the eight-run seventh in game two that broke the game open.
Earnest said he didn”t know why his players have come to life at the plate in the past few weeks. The only solution he could offer is the Lady Lions know it is that time of season when titles are earned, and he hopes Hamilton can continue its torrid hitting to capture a championship.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.