With a new artificial turf surface at the Don Usher Softball Field, Mississippi University for Women softball coach Tatjana Matthews doesn’t need the rain to go away to ensure her team plays its season opener at noon today against Millsaps College.
However, Matthews does need her players to understand her, which is why she is thankful they have come to understand “coach,” a language that men’s and women’s coaches speak in every sport.
“(Thursday), I said, ‘Did we put the thing in the thing?’ ” Matthews said. “I didn’t know what I was talking about, but they knew exactly what I was talking about.”
Matthews said she was referring to a wind screen and the players picked up on her wave length and knew where it was. She said that is an encouraging sign as The W kicks off its first season at its renovated home.
“Besides having a child without an instruction manual, this has probably been the hardest and most exciting puzzle that I have had to deal with,” Matthews said. “We’re like a bunch of Lincoln Logs. If you don’t them in the right order, they’re really not going to fit together.”
Matthews said she has had to “flip a couple of blocks around” to make sure things have come together. She acknowledged starting a program from scratch has had its challenges, but she said the word of the day a couple of weeks ago was “perseverance.” Matthews hopes the players will continue to work hard and through any other obstacles that come up between today and the rest of the season.
Heidi Matthews, a junior infielder from Coward, South Carolina, earned the nickname “silent assassin” from her coach. She said it has been fun to learn how to understand Matthews’ “coach” and how everything is supposed to fit into place.
Matthews said she is willing to play wherever the Owls need her to play. She played shortstop and second base through her high school and travel ball career.
“You can see everybody just knows what they’re supposed to do and they do it,” Heidi Matthews said. “With that, we have just kind of come together.
“It was a little surprising. We all wondered how it was going to work. We all got to know each other and jelled good.”
Today’s games are part of a 35-game schedule that welcomes the sport back to intercollegiate competition. The W will play six other home dates in a regular-season schedule that runs through a doubleheader against Judson College (Ala.) on Wednesday, April 18.
Matthews said the “puzzle” she envisioned having at the beginning of the school year is about 80 percent what she will see today when the team hits the field. She said she has a “good idea” about who will play today and how she will rotate her pitchers (two left-handers, two right-handers) and the position players.
Junior pitcher Madison Scoggin, who is from Bay Springs, said some of the players knew each other coming from junior colleges throughout the state of Mississippi. Having played at Pearl River Community College, Scoggin said coach Matthews has helped the players build chemistry by keeping things fun.
“I am very excited (for today),” Scoggin said. “There is going to be a big crowd there. I am ready to start the team all over again.”
Junior infielder Kristen Martin, who is from Hattiesburg, can play a little everywhere. She said she left Oak Grove High and went to Pearl River C.C. as a second baseman and learned how to play the outfield. At The W, she has learned how to play first base.
Martin said plenty of her teammates also have had to adjust joining the program. She said it all has worked because everyone is “coachable” and wants to work hard to help the team realize its potential.
“To see it all come together is amazing,” Martin said.
Open letter from Trufant
In an open letter to fans of The W, Jason Trufant, the school’s director of athletics, said there will be two sections of bleacher seating near home plate for fans. He said fans will be permitted to bring chairs to use in a limited area on both sides of home plate.
Trufant said fans won’t be permitted to sit in the area directly behind home plate. He also said outfield seating isn’t available but is planned for the future.
Due to construction around the field, personal vehicles won’t be permitted in the outfield and on surrounding field areas.
Inside the roster
Matthews will field a 21-player squad for her first games.
The roster will feature plenty of local flavor, including former New Hope High School standouts Anna Kate O’Bryant and Meredith Woolbright and former Caledonia High standouts Makayla Taylor and Cara Hopper.
Other local players are: Mateline Newman (South Lamar High, Ala.), Kandler Flora and Carolyn “Kendall” Wilkinson (East Webster High), and Melinda Brown (Pickens County High, Ala.).
This and that
All regular-season home games this season will be free. … Concessions will be available at all home games. The stand will be located on the third-base side of the press box. … Parking is on a first come, first served basis. It will be located across the street from Don Usher Field on the west side of 15th Street South (Kiwanis Field). Parking won’t be permitted on 15th Street South (first-base line) or 7th Avenue South (behind the press box and third-base line). Additional game day parking is located north of the railroad tracks inside the University gates. Handicap parking spots are available across from the field on 15th Street South. Look for the signs and University staff to assist. … Future parking will be available behind the right-field fence, but that won’t be completed by today.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.