One team is building toward a repeat.
The other is building toward respectability.
Even though it is only August, the New Hope and Columbus high school slow-pitch softball teams showed Thursday they have plenty to look forward to this season.
D.J. Sanders had four hits, including three doubles, to lead a 17-hit attack in New Hope”s 13-5 victory at Lady Trojan Field.
Jordan Johnson had three hits and Jessica Moore, Anna McCrary (two RBIs), and Brandi Brantley (three RBIs) each added two hits to help the Mississippi High School Activities Association defending Class 5A state champions improve to 3-0.
“It is getting a lot better,” New Hope coach Tabitha Beard said. “The girls have worked hard at getting the ball out of the air.”
Haley Tutor, Lauren Holifield, and Kaitlin Bradley (two) also had RBIs as New Hope capitalized on pitching that didn”t have a lot of arc on it. Beard said a 17-hit performance against that kind of pitching will make her feel even better.
Until then, the Lady Trojans will continue to flash their trademark defense. Sanders the shortstop, started the first of two double plays by throwing to Holifield at second base, who fired to Anna Holley at first. Brantley, the pitcher, got the second one started by fielding a groundball and turning and throwing to Sanders, who went to Holley for the twin killing.
“Lauren has pop at second base in releasing the ball, and that is one reason I swapped her and Kaitlin,” said Beard of Holifield, who played third base last season. “D.J. and Lauren did a really good job. It is something we work on every day in practice. The defense is getting there. There are still some places I would like to see improvement, but for the most part I was happy. They played a lot better as a team. ”
New Hope broke the game open with a six-run fourth inning. The Lady Trojans had five consecutive hits (seven in all) and capitalized on two errors to pull away.
Teauna Edwards, Shanique Ousley, and Porchia Brooks each had two hits for Columbus, which banged out 13 hits.
Second-year Columbus coach Alissa Wriley said hitting remains an area the Lady Falcons are improving on. Given the enthusiasm and the improved play Columbus showcased Thursday night, Wriley feels the program is on the right track.
“(The improvement is attributed to) hard work in practice and positive attitudes,” Wriley said. “It is starting to pay off right now. I am trying to get them to work together as a team and jell. Once we can do that I feel we will be all right.”
New Hope would have had more hits but Columbus snared four line drives and caught 10 flyball outs. Third baseman Brooks also made a leaping catch on a basehit bid by Brantley in the sixth inning. Wriley said those plays show the Lady Falcons intend to keep building a program.
“The defense is awesome,” Wriley said. “The only problem is we”re working on our bats and leaving people on base. That is our biggest issue.”
Wriley said her challenge is even tougher because Columbus has nowhere near the tradition of New Hope, which has won three state championships in a row, and 12 overall, all in slow-pitch softball. The Lady Trojans won the Class 4A state title in 2007 and ”08.
But Wriley, who was a player at Caledonia High, said there is no reason Columbus can”t be an annual state tournament team that doesn”t settle for just making the playoffs.
“We”re trying to build that now,” said Wriley, who has just two seniors on the team. “I have a lot of young players, too. My shortstop is a seventh-grader. My second baseman is an eighth-grader. My second pitcher is an eighth-grader. I have a lot of young ones I am trying to get into the winning mode.
“(The desire) is there. I just have to get them to pull it from within. It is coming. We are just getting started. We have some good things ahead and some good players coming.”
New Hope will play Newton County at 10:30 a.m., West Lauderdale at 1:30 p.m., and Southeast Lauderdale at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Meridian.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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