May 3, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Jessica Halterman was in a zone.
The East Webster High School senior pitcher was so focused Saturday afternoon she didn''t appear ready to celebrate after recording the final out in an 8-2 victory against Smithville in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 1A best-of-three championship series.
While some of her teammates tossed their gloves into the air, Halterman left the circle and moved toward her team''s dugout. She appeared to mouth the word, "Wow."
All it took was a bear hug from East Webster coach Bill Brand to help her refocus on the magnitude of the Lady Wolverines'' fourth consecutive fast-pitch state title.
"At first, it really didn''t hit me," Halterman said. "I was like, ''Oh, we won. It is great.'' Then it was like, ''Bang, it is state.'' "
It''s natural for Halterman to be so focused in the circle. Her concentration and ability to dominate hitters have been constants each of the past four seasons as East Webster has established itself as one of the state''s premier softball programs.
In that time, Halterman amassed the majority of her 101 career high school victories. It was fitting she reached the century mark and then added one to it in the final series of her high school career.
"I was just proud for Jessica and for all of the seniors, and it was a relief," Brand said. "It was one of those things where everybody expects you to, expects you to. The kids really can''t let you down and you''re just proud for them to get (the pressure) off their shoulders and are able to celebrate."
Halterman has pitched with those expectations on her shoulders all season. As one of the state''s top pitchers, she knew she was expected not to allow opponents to get into a rhythm in the batter''s box.
She lived up to that responsibility all season, and saved some of her best games of the year for the playoffs.
Halterman won two games at Stringer after losing a 2-1 decision at home.
She struck out 14 and threw a no-hitter in game two of East Webster''s series victory against Bogue Chitto.
On Saturday, Halterman referred to that game as one of her top performances. She said her last victory -- a five-hitter in which she struck out six -- didn''t compare to the no-hitter, but it didn''t need to because her control and the Lady Wolverines'' defense (they committed only one error) and hitting was more than enough.
Brand said Halterman''s reaction after the game was typical.
"It may have been a little more cool, calm, and collected because she had that six-run lead," Brand said. "If it had been a 3-2 game or if they had runners in scoring position it may have been a little different. I think Jessica felt she had things in hand and I am sure she feels relief right now. I am very proud."
East Webster didn''t have to worry about a nerve-wracking seventh inning because seniors Jordan Sisk, Halterman, Iyeshia Thomas, Caityln Williamson, and Darlynda Wilson all played roles in a five-run third that gave the Lady Wolverines the lead for good.
Williamson added a three-run home run in the fifth to provide the icing on a second consecutive state title series victory against Smithville.
Thomas said she couldn''t help but think in the seventh about what it would mean to win a fourth title in as many years. She said she got emotional when she realized that inning would be her last with her teammates.
"I am glad we went out with a bang," Thomas said. "I had to stay in it. If I would have got a popup I would have missed it. I had to stay focused until it was all over."
Four consecutive playoff runs enabled Halterman and the rest of the Lady Wolverines to play with the poise and confidence of champions.
Saturday''s effort was the final entry in a dominating four-year run that will go down in history as one of the state''s best.
All we can say is "Wow."
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Commercial Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected]
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.