Brandi Brantley and Anna Holley have spent their high school careers immersed in tradition.
Their senior softball season started the same way: with another state title. The New Hope High School slow-pitch team won its fourth championship in a row, and second in a row in Class 5A, in October, closing an illustrious chapter in their career.
One last journey begins today. This one hasn”t been as successful, but likely has seen more growth as Brantley and Holley have grown to love a new game and a new generation of Lady Trojans has helped one of the state”s premier slow-pitch teams develop a budding power in the fast-pitch game.
At 5:30 p.m. today, New Hope will play at Pearl in game one of their best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State playoff series. Game two will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, with an if-game to follow.
“I think we have the potential to be great,” New Hope coach Tabitha Beard said. “It is going to depend on if they want to play. Mentally, I think they are there and ready to play.”
Brantley feels the Lady Trojans are struggling with their hitting. She is confident the team can challenge for a state title if it “wants it” and “works together to get it.” She admits this is her last chance to make history and to be a member of the New Hope High team that wins the school”s first fast-pitch title.
“Everybody would remember that,” Brantley said. “Hopefully we can make it to state because that would be amazing. That would make my year. I would never forget it.” New Hope”s success in slow-pitch almost pales in comparison to the significance of what would be a first fast-pitch state crown, Brantley said. She said everyone at the school and many in the state of Mississippi feel it is New Hope”s destiny to win slow-pitch championships. Those expectations carry a burden that can prevent players from enjoying that journey.
When it is over, it feels like a relief when the team has accomplished what everyone thought it would.
Brantley hopes this last run in fast-pitch will be different.
“Four titles in a row is awesome, but it is everybody expects us to win,” Brantley said. “In fast-pitch it is complete opposite, it is like nobody expects us to win. To do what everybody expects us to do and to prove everybody wrong (would be awesome).”
Brantley feels the perception of New Hope softball has changed and will continue to change because younger players grow up playing fast-pitch softball first and then trying slow pitch. She feels the new generation of Lady Trojans will be more dominant in fast-pitch because they will have more experience in that game, just like she and Holley are the lone remaining slow-pitch warriors who were in the program when Cary Shepherd stepped down as coach and Beard took over.
As seniors, Holley, Brandi and Brittany Brantley hope they can set aside all of the anxiety that has led up to today and help the “old guard” go on a high note and set the bar for a new group of Lady Trojans.
“We”re always right there,” Holley said. “We have been to the second round and to North State. I think we have the players. … I think in fast pitch it is sort of like, ”We”re going to do as good as we can until w lose out.” We don”t have the mentality we have in slow pitch. All we have to do is to get that mentality of we”re going to win back. Regardless of whether we think we can, good things happen if we have that mentality.”
Holley said the key to regaining that mentality will be to “act like the team is playing slow pitch.” If that”s the case, the Lady Trojans will rely on solid defense and timely hitting. Holley said the hitting will have to regroup and deliver at a higher level to push to team over the top.
“I think we have to get back to getting ahead, staying ahead and keep playing ahead,” Holley said.
Beard is anxious given the team hasn”t played in a while and that it has had to adjust to several injuries this season. One injury knocked junior outfielder Anna McCrary out for the season.
But Beard has scouted Pearl and believes her team should do well if it plays to its potential.
From there, who knows what can happen.
“They want to win,” Beard said. “They have been so close so many times and they never have come all of the way through. They said from the beginning that this was their year to do it. We had a few girls not play and circumstances be what they are, but they have done really well threw through that.
“(Anna and Brandi) are very positive, encouraging people, and have been really good with the younger girls going through the changes in the outfield. I think they are ready and a little anxious. Nobody wants to see it end, so I hope we keep that mind-set as a group that it could be the end any day and we don”t want it to be that.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.