STARKVILLE — Hamilton High School sophomore third baseman Faith Fontenot knows which teammates help keep her team loose.
“We have that group that keeps us going,” Fontenot said. “Nobody gets tense. We don’t allow that around here. When the pressure mounts, we are at our best because of our attitude. We have some players who know how to find fun out of any situation.”
The Lady Lions found the fun late Thursday afternoon.
Hamilton pieced together five hits for a three-run seventh inning and a 6-4 victory against Myrtle in Game 1 of the best-of-three series Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 1A State championship at Mississippi State’s Nusz Park.
The series resumes at 2:30 p.m. today. If Myrtle forces a third game, it would be at a time to be determined Saturday.
“Clutch hitting when we needed it the most,” Hamilton coach Bryan Loague said. “That’s been one of the trademarks of our team this season. The top part of our lineup has really been hitting the ball well in the playoffs. Today, they came through just in time.”
Hamilton (18-11-1) had 13 hits. However, the Lady Lions couldn’t a find a way to put together the big inning.
That changed in the seventh.
Victoria Harrison hit her second double off the outfield wall to start the inning. Hannah Rooks followed with a hit to send Harrison to third base. Fontenot then laced a two-run double just over the outstretched glove of the center fielder.
Taylor Brock followed with an RBI single.
Four-straight hits led to three runs that pushed Hamilton one win from the school’s first state championship in fast-pitch softball.
“We just approached this like any other game,” Harrison said. “It’s the state championship and it’s being played at Mississippi State, but we didn’t want to get caught up in all that. We believe in each other. We just wanted to keep battling. There wasn’t a doubt we could put everything together when we needed it most.”
A large Hamilton crowd broke out in a “blue, white” chant, modeled after MSU’s “maroon, white” chant.
The good vibes carried throughout the seventh. However, the Lady Hawks had one more shot.
In the seventh for Myrtle (19-6), an error and fielder’s choice placed two runners in scoring position with one out.
A line-drive double play followed, and the Hamilton crowd erupted for one final time.
“Our defense was outstanding,” Loague said. “We just made some incredible plays. We opened the door a couple of times with errors. However, we made up for that with a pickoff, the caught stealing, a double play to get out of what would could have been a bad first inning, the game-ending double play. Just an all-around gritty effort. Proud of them, but we got to do it one more time.”
After a fly out and strikeout earlier, Harrison didn’t feel like she was doing justice to batting in the leadoff spot, where she led off three innings.
That all changed with a hard-hit double to start the Hamilton fifth. The ball almost cleared the fence and gave the Hamilton dugout a lift. Down 3-1 at the time, Hamilton scored twice in the fifth.
“We can hit,” Harrison said. “We haven’t been good at starting games this year. It takes a little while to get things started. Once everything starts clicking, the team starts scoring runs. The confidence just stays the same. Eventually, the hits are going to fall.”
Fontenot had four hits, including two triples and two doubles. Rooks had two hits, while Harrison had two doubles. Hamilton had eight hits from the top three spots.
“Our first couple of batters are so good at going on, my job is to make sure to drive them home,” Fontenot said. “It’s been working for us all season.”
At this time, the team’s identity of being a slow starter isn’t going to be altered. A regular slow-pitch softball state champion, Hamilton is focused on getting one more win to make history.
“The pressure is going to be on (Myrtle),” Fontenot said. “We just have to come out, be loose, and have fun playing the game. That is when we are at our best.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.