Lauren Holifield can”t help it.
Like most hitters, Holifield”s eyes get wide as a Cheshire cat”s when she gets a pitch she can jack.
If you ever have picked up a bat, you know the feeling that accompanies the bugged out eyes. You want to jump out of your cleats with anticipation and you”re so amped that sometimes, even if the pitch is coming painfully slow, you miss it.
Holifield didn”t miss Friday afternoon.
The junior outfielder smacked two solo home runs and added a double to lead the New Hope High School slow-pitch softball team to an 11-1 victory against Caledonia at Lady Trojans Field. Holifield”s home run in the bottom of the sixth inning ended the game due to the 10-run mercy rule.
“When I don”t get my pitch and it is two strikes, I just try to get a basehit,” Holifield said. “But when it is my pitch and it is there I just go all for it.”
Holifield did just that on both blasts to left field. Like a true power hitter, she got all of her body into her swings and easily drove the pitches from Landri Brown high and well over the fence.
Holifield, who also is a standout for New Hope”s fast-pitch team, said she has to do all she can to hold herself back when she sees “her pitch” and not get too anxious so she gets herself out. She tries to wait, wait, wait, and then explode.
“It is really hard, but I have trained myself, kinda,” Holifield said laughing.
Regardless of the pitch, the right-handed hitting Holifield tries to keep her movement in the batter”s box to a minimum. Holifield is adept at moving her feet so she can hit the ball to the right side if a defense is playing her to pull. She also can line a ball back up the middle if the Lady Trojans need a hit to move runners.
Either way, she feels comfortable at the plate after years playing slow- and fast-pitch softball and tries to keep her shoulders square and to keep her weight back so she can explode.
If New Hope (15-6) continues its hot hitting, the chances are high it will get a shot to return to Jackson to defend its Class 5A title. The Lady Trojans have won four championships in a row (the first two in Class 4A, the past two in Class 5A) Even though the fences at the V.A. Fields in Jackson are 300 feet, far longer than any of the fields the team plays on in the regular season, Holifield said that daunting prospect doesn”t faze her. She said she has another pitch — one she can tattoo for line drives — that will serve her well in a bigger ballpark when the Lady Trojans can”t do themselves in by making long outs.
“When that pitch comes, I probably will let it go because it probably will be back,” Holifield said. “I will just wait on my line-drive pitch and hit it instead of jacking it because they”re going to be playing deep and it will be just like a long flyball.”
New Hope coach Tabitha Beard hopes Holifield and the rest of the Lady Trojans can continue to swing their bats well. New Hope scored 18 runs in a win against Neshoba Central on Tuesday. She said the team was in the hitting groove early in the season when it was averaging more than 20 hits a game. The momentum stalled in the middle of the season, but she said she likes what she has seen recently and feels the team could be hitting its stride just in time.
“We”re hitting the ball better,” Beard said. “We”re still not as consistent as I would like us to be, but I am not going to let some of the things we did wrong overshadow the good week we have had.”
Beard said victories against Starkville, Neshoba Central, and Caledonia gave New Hope one of its best weeks of the season. She said the Lady Trojans capitalized on mistakes despite making a few too many of their own for Beard”s liking.
But Beard feels the defense will come together. She also praised the maturation of senior Anna McCrary, who is in her first season as pitcher. McCrary is one of only two seniors on a roster dominated by young players. With so much tradition, those players have picked up on the work ethic previous classes have used to build New Hope into a state power. Beard feels this team has the potential to join those championship squads.
“The bats are coming around,” Beard said. “They come and go in spaces, but we seem to be a little more relaxed there. Defensively, we are still making a few mistakes, but we”re getting into a groove. We”re getting there.”
Kasey Stanfield had a double and an RBI, McCrary had two singles and an RBI, Mackenzie Harvey had a single and two RBIs, Erin Stanfield had two singles and two RBIs, Ashley Reed had two singles and an RBI, and Abby Wilson and Gabby Murray also had hits.
Lindsey Burton had two hits to lead Caledonia. Sarah Beth Kinard had a single and an RBI, and Ashley Langford had the other hit for the Lady Confederates.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.