CALEDONIA — Kennedy Trotter heard the advice from the bleachers Sunday at sun-drenched Ola J. Pickett Park.
“Go to right field; hit it over the right fielder’s head.”
It seemed like a good idea, as outfield miscues already had helped turn Caledonia’s hard-hit singles into bases-clearing adventures. But Trotter didn’t need any help from the Choctaw County defense this time.
The first two batters in the fifth inning had reached by hitting the ball hard and causing trouble for infielders, but Trotter aimed farther. She belted a pitch high over the outstretched arms of the Choctaw County right fielder and toward the fence for a three-run home run that snapped a 7-7 tie and steered Caledonia to a 16-7 win in the championship game of the Dizzy Dean Softball state tournament.
“Yes, I was trying to do that,” Trotter said of her go-ahead blast. She also had a pop-fly double and a hard-hit ball that was misplayed by two fielders during a four-run second in what was a very productive game for the top third of Calddonia’s batting order.
Delaney McKettrick, Trotter and Katelyn Hill devastated Choctaw County, making just one out in 12 at-bats and scoring 11 of Caledonia’s 16 runs. Hill also starred in the circle, coming on in relief and completely changing the course of the game.
Hill held Choctaw County scoreless for three consecutive innings, striking out the side during the third and allowing just two hits and a walk over that stretch.
That was a welcome sight after Choctaw County scored five runs on one hit during the first inning. The rule limiting a team to five runs in an inning was a gift for Caledonia, as Choctaw County had the bases loaded when the fifth run was walked home.
“The five-run rule absolutely helped us out in this game,” Caledonia coach Devin Downey said. “It hurt us in other games, but it helped us in this one. It kind of goes both ways.”
Even bigger was an essential at tournament time: pitching depth.
“We’re really deep in pitching,” Downey said. “We’ve got four or five girls who can throw, and we had fresh arms. Staying in the winners bracket helped as well. This was just our fourth game in the tournament. We didn’t have to play in the heat as much as some of the other teams.
“Choctaw played great. In the end, we were fresh, and they had already played a game today.”
Choctaw County was anything but fresh. They were sent to the consolation bracket by Caledonia with a 10-0 setback on Thursday, then had to win elimination games against Lowndes County on Friday; Hamilton, JP Hudson and Cleveland on Saturday; and West Point earlier Sunday.
Perhaps looking for an edge against their better-rested opponent, Choctaw County players in the dugout turned to the unsettling tactic of screeching just when a Caledonia pitcher was about to deliver. The noise angered Caledonia fans, but players said it didn’t get to them and played no part in their early struggles.
“You can’t let your emotions and stuff like that get hold of you,” said Rylee Clardy, one of the players who has been around for several of Caledonia’s tournament championships. “You have to dig deep and find the groove to win the ball game.”
And once the Caledonia offense found a groove, it kept grooving, putting up five runs in the fourth and four in the fifth. Hill and Clardy followed Trotter’s home run with singles, and each eventually scored. Consecutive hits by McKettrick, Trotter, Hill and Clardy after a leadoff walk kept the runs coming in the fifth.
“Our big thing is hitting, and when we get on in hitting, we’re tough to stop,” Downey said.
“Hitting’s contagious,” she said. “If one person starts hitting, everybody’s going to start hitting. If one person makes a good play, everybody’s going to make a good play, Everything is contagious.”
Caledonia now will turn its attention to defending another title.
“From here we’ll go to the Dizzy Dean World Series, a five-day tournament in Southaven, Mississippi,” Downey said. “We’ll stay a few nights, and the girls will get to hang out with each other, and we’ll get to hang out with the girls and spend a little time with them.”
Trotter was the Most Valuable Player and Clardy and Hill joined her on the all-tournament team at last year’s DDWS, but the 12U team wasn’t the only Caledonia champion in 2021. Several players on this year’s 12U team were on the champion 10U team a year ago, including tournament MVP Marlee Franks, the winning pitcher Saturday against Batesville. Layla Egger and Molly Kate Downey, who batted sixth and seventh, respectively, against Choctaw County, joined Franks on the 2021 all-tournament team at the 10U World Series.
The Dizzy Dean World Series will begin July 9 in Southaven.
Starkville Maroon reached the 6U South championship game before falling on Sunday to Cleveland in Batesville.
Cleveland was the same team that sent Starkville Maroon into the consolation bracket after Starkville opened the tournament by defeating Columbus. Cleveland also defeated West Point and Starkville White in the main bracket.
Starkville Maroon won the 7U championship, coming out of the consolation bracket to defeat Cleveland twice on Sunday in Louisville.
Starkville Maroon won consecutive games against Southaven, Senatobia, Greenwood, Grenada and Louisville after losing to Greenwood in its opening game.
West Point was the runner-up in 10U South, which was played in West Point. The host team avenged an earlier loss to Lowndes County to reach the championship game, where it fell to Choctaw County.
In Louisville, Lowndes County captured the 12U title by defeating Caledonia. Lowndes County went unbeaten in the tournament, getting past Houston, Indianola and Starkville to reach the final. After falling to Indianola in the main bracket, Caledonia defeated Newton County, Louisville, West Point and Starkville to come out of the consolation bracket.