Lanoria Abrams banged a run-scoring double off the center-field wall in the first inning of Game 1 of the New Hope High School slow-pitch softball team’s Class 5A/6A best-of-three playoff series against Madison Central on Thursday night.
She didn’t miss a home run her second time.
Striding to the plate with her team leading 6-2 in the bottom of the third, Abrams launched a two-strike, two-out missile to straightaway center field that glanced off the top of the wall and into the street for a three-run home run. It was a blast that set the tone for New Hope to hit four home runs in the 18-10 and 14-10 victories.
“It felt really good,” said Abrams, a sophomore who was 3-for-3 with five RBIs in Game 1. “I was a little mad at the time because of the second pitch. I thought it wasn’t a strike, so I knew I had to make the next one count. When I hit it, it felt good, but that wall is huge. I haven’t seen many people hit it over that wall, but it made it.”
Abrams’ outbursts helped New Hope break out for 44 hits in the series sweep that pushed the team into the next round, where it will face Warren Central on Saturday in Vicksburg.
Thursday night, however, belonged to New Hope’s bats.
“It’s something new for us,” New Hope coach Tabitha Beard said. “We haven’t been hitting a lot of home runs, but we did tonight. What I was most proud of, though, was we settled down after most of them. For a second, we’d start trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark and we were popping up, but once we settled back into the groove of hitting line drives, we were better off. It’s possible we will run into a field that’s 300 feet or bigger somewhere down the road, so you want to focus on hitting line drives. Those are always hits.”
There were plenty of hits Thursday. In addition to Abrams’ two-run shot, the Lady Trojans had five more extra-base hits, including a solo home run by Tamia Bouldes and doubles by leadoff hitter Alex Melton, Anna Kate O’Bryant, and Abrams. Melton was 4-for-4 with two doubles and four runs scored on a night when each member of lineup had at least one hit.
The Lady Trojans made their biggest mark in the second inning of Game 1, scoring eight runs to turn a 3-2 lead into an 11-2 rout. Kerrington Bradford, Hope Williams, Abrams, and Bouldes all drove in runs in the inning.
Abrams led New Hope with five RBIs in the opener.
“The biggest thing for (Abrams) is she hit the ball well tonight,” Beard said. “She had been struggling, but she put that behind her.”
Game 2 was more of the same for New Hope, as the Trojans lashed out 19 more hits and two more home runs. But the heroes were different for a team that boasts only one senior on its roster.
With the Trojans leading 10-6 entering the top of the seventh, New Hope rallied for insurance. When Abrams walked to the plate with a run in and a runner on second base, Madison Central intentionally walked her and chose to face sophomore Alayna Friesen.
Friesen crushed a 1-0 pitch over the right-field fence for a three-run home run that put the game out of reach.
“I was a little insulted, really,” Friesen said. “I wasn’t mad at them for doing it because I’ve been struggling a lot lately. I probably would have done the same thing if I were them. But I got my pitch, and it happened.”
Friesen’s bomb was the latest in a string of big hits for New Hope, which trailed once in the series. It also put the finishing touches on a game that featured a big performance by junior Hope Williams, who had a two-run home run in the fourth to help the Lady Trojans pull away.
Williams had a home run, a double, and four RBIs in the game, and she finished the series with five hits and seven RBIs.
“Hope is the kind of hitter you want at the plate in those situations,” Beard said. “Maybe it’s not always going to be a home run, but she’s going to give you a good at-bat.”
Williams was also the winning pitcher in both games.
New Hope also received quality at-bats from the bottom of its lineup in Game 2, as No. 9 hitter Chelsey Ray singled twice and drove in three runs, while No. 10 hitter Anna Kate O’Bryant was 2-for-4 with a triple and two RBIs.
Leading 14-6 going into the final frame, New Hope would dodge a late bullet, as Madison Central scored four runs before a harmless flyout to left center ended the series.
For Madison Central, Lane Boyer finished the series 8-for-8 with two home runs, three doubles, and six RBIs.
But it wasn’t enough to knock off a team that scored in 11 of its 13 at-bats.
“When we got down tonight, we didn’t stay down,” Friesen said. “We kept battling. That’s what we have to keep doing. In the next round, we have to come out swinging again.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat