WEST POINT — McKenzie Rhett claimed second base as her own, running hard with long strides as she reached the bag and stood upon it.
The Heritage Academy third baseman had just cleared the bases with a drive to left field, bringing in three runs and missing a home run by inches.
“Just a little bit more Wheaties, and she would have had it,” Patriots coach Heidi Matthews said.
When Rhett got to second, she stood and pumped her arms in the air twice — simply exuberant.
She and the Patriots certainly had every reason to be Monday night in their first victory of the season, a three-hour, five-inning 26-16 comeback win at Oak Hill Academy in West Point.
“We started slow in the first inning,” pitcher Jeoreia Henry said. “Last couple innings, we shut it down.”
Henry — an eighth grader in her first year at Heritage Academy after transferring in from New Hope — played a big role in that on Monday, ripping a three-run triple to the wall in right center field to tie the game at 7-7 in the top of the second inning.
“She’s doing phenomenal,” Matthews said. “She’s just seeing the ball well. She’s working hard.”
Henry reached base in every subsequent plate appearance, being hit by a pitch and walking three times. One of the walks was an intentional free pass to load the bases in the midst of an 11-run third inning, with Matthews saying there’s “a little fear there” when the eighth grader steps to the plate.
“I get it all the time,” Henry said. “I’m used to it.”
In just her first year pitching, Henry filled in admirably in the circle, taking over for Carley Martin with two out in the bottom of the first. (Rhett, who pitched a complete game against Kemper Academy in the Pats’ season opener Friday, was given the day off.)
Henry was effective in her 4.1-inning stint Monday, allowing the occasional run on a walk or a hit but never letting the Raiders overwhelm her.
Matthews said the fact that Henry can deliver out of a starting spot or out of the bullpen is what makes her so special.
“That’s part of her role,” Matthews said. “She knows her role, and she digs into it.”
Matthews, a former softball player at the Mississippi University for Women, said she told her team to cut down on the errors and misplays that doomed them to a 23-11 loss Friday, and the Patriots responded.
They were largely solid, forcing Mitch Bohon’s young Oak Hill squad into mistakes. In the lengthy top of the third, Raiders pitchers issued 10 consecutive walks — nine with the bases loaded. Starter Molly Bland is a seventh grader, and Oak Hill pitched a freshman and a sophomore as well as a senior, so the inexperience was only natural in the first game of the season — but Bohon said he expects it to improve.
“In order to compete, we’ve gotta throw strikes,” Bohon said. “We’ll get better.”
The Raiders jumped out to a 7-3 lead after the first inning and led 12-10 after two, showing that their offense was far from the problem Monday.
“When you score 16 runs, you usually feel pretty good,” Bohon said.
The Raiders go into Tuesday’s home game against dangerous Winona Christian with an 0-1 record, faith in their offense and a clear sign of what they need to work on.
“We did some good things,” Bohon said. “In fast pitch, it all starts with pitching.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.