NEW HOPE — They weren’t the higher seed, and they had to play an opening-round series while their opponent rested, but the New Hope High School softball team looked every bit the superior team during the second round of the MHSAA Class 5A tournament.
Junior designated player Lailah Henderson went 3 for 5 with a double, a triple, four RBIs, two runs and a stolen base, the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters each drove in two runs and the Trojans rolled into the third round with a 13-5 rout of Lafayette on Saturday.
The victory followed an 11-2 trouncing of the Region 2 champion Commodores on Friday night, giving New Hope a 2-0 sweep of the series.
“I thought we did a really good job of being disciplined at the plate,” New Hope coach Casey Finch Halford said. “They have a dynamic pitching staff. They all look different, they throw different speeds, and we just focus a lot in the cages on adjusting to different speed types, different windups and things like that.
“I think they did a good job of adjusting.”
They had to, as Lafayette threw three pitchers at the Trojans, making the first pitching change during the first inning. Walks to Lexi McBrayer and Kensley Woolbright set up Taylor Brownlee’s booming double over the center fielder’s head for a 2-0 lead, and when Amya Sampson reached on a throwing error that allowed Brownlee to score, that was all for Lafayette starter McKenna Brown.
Another error brought home Sampson, and New Hope had an early 4-0 lead.
After scoring a single run in the second, the Trojans put up four more in the third. This time it was Henderson with the big hit. After an error and two walks loaded the bases with one out, she sent an 0-1 pitch screaming down the line in left.
The speedy Henderson, who begins many at-bats from the left side for her bunting/slap hitting skills, turns to bat right-handed when the count or the situation require it. And she pulled that pitch perfectly, sending it into the left-field corner while she motored around the bases, thinking triple all the way.
“She’s extremely fast,” Finch Halford said. “She’s very smart on the bases. She’s been a ballplayer since she was really little. It’s really fun to her to be able to take the next base, and she’s always looking to take that next bag.
“She’s quick, she watches for pitchers and catchers being lazy, she anticipates an overthrow. She’s just strong all around on the bases.”
Henderson scored the second-inning run after beating out an infield single, and she drove in the Trojans’ last run with a two-out double in the sixth.
Meanwhile, Adi Dueitt went the first three innings without much trouble. She struck out the side in the third; the first strikeout, getting Saniyah Herod looking, was her 150th this season.
“Last year, she ended with 76,” Finch Halford said. “It’s really exciting that she’s basically doubled that.”
“Hitting 150 is really big for me,” Dueitt said. “It’s getting better mechanics and telling me what I’m doing wrong and me correcting it.”
Dueitt and Finch Halford each credited coach Gary Thomas with helping the New Hope pitching staff collectively improve.
Dueitt started strong; she allowed one hit over her first 10 batters. But she ran into some trouble after that, as she allowed five hits, including four doubles, over the next 10.
After consecutive doubles gave Lafayette a second run in the fifth, Kensley Woolbright moved into the circle from left field. She plunked a couple of batters and walked another, but she only allowed two hits over three innings, and one was an on infield single that traveled fewer than 10 feet.
Lafayette never seriously threatened to make a game of it.
Officially, New Hope did not commit an error while Lafayette had six. Lafayette pitchers walked seven; Dueitt and Woolbright combined to walk two. The Trojans were simply sharper than the Commodores through most of the game, and the result was predictable.
The series sweep sets up a third-round matchup with Vicksburg, the Region 4 champion who swept Ridgeland to advance. The Gators and Trojans had an eventful meeting in last year’s tournament, with Vicksburg winning Game 3, New Hope lodging a protest over an illegal ball, the MHSAA ruling in New Hope’s favor, the game being replayed, and New Hope winning 9-5.
The mess forced the next round of the tournament to be pushed back three days, when Saltillo swept New Hope by two 1-0 scores.
“I’m going into it positively,” Dueitt said. “Now we have a better outlook, and we know what to expect.”
New Hope 11, Lafayette 2: Senior Amya Sampson went 3 for 4 with two doubles, five RBIs and a run as the Trojans rolled to a Game 1 win in Oxford.
Kensley Woolbright doubled, tripled and drove in three runs for the Trojans, who outhit the Commodores 12-5. Lailah Hernandez had three hits and scored three runs for New Hope.
Neither run Lafayette scored against starter Adi Dueitt during her five innings of work was earned. Kensley Woolbright pitched two scoreless innings of relief.