STARKVILLE — It was the kind of rally winning teams put together, even though it came in a game the Starkville High School softball team might not be ready to win.
The Yellow Jackets (3-6, 0-2 6A-1) sent 15 batters to the plate and scored nine runs during a marathon third inning, but the rest of the night belonged to Oxford, which scored in every inning to post a 24-9 win over Starkville in a Class 6A.
First-year Starkville coach Brittany Tillery saw a lot about what she likes about her team during that third inning.
“These girls fight,” Tillery said. “They are very, very, very hard workers, and they want to be successful. I tell them all the time, don’t worry about wins or losses. Worry about the small wins, and know that the small successes one day will equal major successes.
“We had a lot of wins today.”
Left fielder Jaliyiah Conley singled, walked, drove in a run and scored twice during the rally, getting things started with a one-out single to right-center. The key hit in the rally was a two-run single by Casey Meador, who later scored the fifth run of the inning.
The Yellow Jackets drew six consecutive two-out walks, with those to Kendel Thompson, Conley, Aubree Montgomery and Presley Buckley forcing in the final four runs of the inning.
The Starkville defense turned in some strong plays, especially on throws across the infield, and center fielder Aubree Montgomery made three tough catches, but the Chargers pounded out 17 hits, including three three-run home runs.
Two of those blasts came during a 10-run uprising in the top of the fifth, one by sophomore Madelyn Yon that made it 18-9 and the other from senior Kalvia Caldwell, a sky-high shot that capped the scoring and delighted the visiting bench.
Six of the 17 hits went for extra bases, and the Chargers committed only one error. Statistics like those are a reflection of the experience on their roster, and Tillery knows what is needed to level the playing field.
“What we have to do in this community is build travel ball back up,” she said. “One of the biggest travel ball organizations has a team in Oxford. We have to get those people in the community to get behind a travel ball team so we can build stellar athletes like that.”
Tillery estimated that more than half of Oxford’s roster plays travel ball, and the good news for Tillery is that it’s more a matter of turning the athletes Starkville already has into high-level softball players.
“I tell them all the time, you’re the most athletic team this side of the Mississippi River,” she said. “All you have to do is grow.”
To make that happen, in addition to travel ball, Tillery foresees holding camps during the summer, bringing in college coaches to serve as clinicians.
“They’re young, and I’m not talking about young in age, because I have a couple juniors, a couple sophomores,” she said. “They’re young in mentality. They need to know why you shouldn’t do this and why you should do that. They’re learning on the job, and I’m thinking by the time some of my ninth-graders are juniors, they will be a force.”