October 10, 2012 9:46:53 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
The first step was simply fantastic.
Spurred on by the four-player senior class dubbed "The Fantastic Four," the New Hope High School defeated Canton High 21-0 and 18-0 in the first round of the best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State playoff series at Lady Trojan Field in Columbus.
The victories pushed the five-time defending state champion Lady Trojans (23-5) into the second round and a best-of-three series against Ridgeland at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Neshoba Central, the team that beat New Hope twice in the regular season to earn the top seed in the district, is on the other side of the bracket. It had a bye in the first round and will face the winner of the Saltillo-Yazoo City series Saturday. The North State title series will be Oct. 16. Last season, New Hope beat Neshoba Central in Philadelphia to advance to the state championship series.
New Hope seniors Lauren Holifield, Ashley Reed, and Kasey and Erin Stanfield were 12-for-15 in the doubleheader sweep. The first game was stopped after two innings due to the mercy rule. The second game was stopped after the first inning.
The only hazard New Hope faced from its offensive fireworks was knocking the silver numbers -- 42, 1, 2, and 26 -- off the top of the fence. The numbers were part of the accessories the Lady Trojans used to decorate the field in honor of the seniors, who have been together since youth softball and with the New Hope program since seventh grade.
"We have been together since we were five. We're inseparable," Kasey Stanfield said. The players didn't remember where they were when they discovered the nickname, but Kasey Stanfield did the sisterly thing and allowed her twin sister Erin to take credit for the moniker.
Erin Stanfield's creative name for the group isn't the only nickname the four hold. Holifield ("Lone"), Kasey ("Stacey"), and Erin ("Karen"), and Reed ("Gretchen") also have nicknames that have been given to them from previous teammates.
"Gretchen" comes from a cartoon "Recess" in which character with that name had braces and glasses and freckles. The only thing that didn't fit Reed was the fact she didn't wear glasses, but she let the nickname stick because it wasn't meant to be mean.
Former New Hope High softball standout Anna McCrary, who was at the games to watch her friends, said Reed, the Stanfields, and Holifield share a special bond that has persevered through ups and downs.
"They are one of a kind," McCrary said. "I think they will always be in each others' hearts because they bicker and they fight just like sisters would. I think that is what makes them so close because hey are 'The Fantastic Four,' and there will be nobody else like them."
Reed, the Stanfields, and Holifield became "sisters" playing with coach Connie Sharpe's Southern Swing youth softball team.
When they became eligible to play for the high school team, coach Tabitha Beard could tell the quartet would become a fixture in the slow- and fast-pitch seasons.
"They have a chemistry on the field that is hard to match," Beard said. "When you have played together for that long it is almost like you can guess the next move before the other person takes it.
"They are funny individuals. Sometimes I want to strangle them and sometimes I want to hug them. They can be the meanest people in the world to each other, but nobody else better be mean to any of them. ... You don't find one without the other. They are best friends, and they have been forever, and sometimes in this day and age that is hard to find."
It was easy to spot all of the Lady Trojans because they were adorned with pink Band-Aid-sized patches with Mark 9:23 under their eyes. The color pink was in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, while Mark 9:23 refers to the passage "Anything is possible if a person believes" is one of Kasey Stanfield's favorites.
Not only is that a powerful message to all people affected by cancer, but it also is a mind-set the Lady Trojans are going to carry with them through the postseason. "The Fantastic Four" said they hope their friendship can provide a positive example the Lady Trojans can use as motivation to help extend their championship streak.
In game one, Holifield hit two home runs in a 19-run first inning in which New Hope sent 25 batters to the plate. Twelve players combined for 15 hits and five home runs. Kasey Stanfield hit another homer over the fence, while R.J. James and Taylor Blevins hit inside-the-park home runs. Kaitlin Bradley, Kasey Stanfield, MacKenzie Harvey, and Reed also had doubles. Substitutes Kaitlin Oswalt and Tamia Bouldes also had hits.
In game two, New Hope's first 13 batters scored. Blevins hit another inside-the-park home run, while Holifield (two), D.J. Sanders, Bradley, Kasey Stanfield, and Erin Stanfield had doubles, while Reed had a triple.
n Three Starkville Academy players will compete in All-Star game: At Jackson, Starkville Academy's Tiffany Evans, Jessica Dennis, and Tiffany Huddleston will play at 4:30 p.m. today in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Senior All-Star game at Jackson Prep.
Huddleston, Evans, and teammates Sydney Passons and Jordan Jackson also represented the school on the Division I South All-Division team. Heritage Academy's Roya Asadi was named to the Division I North All-Division squad.
n Starkville beats Callaway in regular-season finale: At Jackson, the Lady Yellow Jackets (19-11, 8-0 district) closed the regular season Tuesday with a 3-0 victory. Set scores were 25-12, 25-9, 25-13.
April Reese had nine kills, four aces, and 12 digs, Stacie Young had four kills, a solo block, and a block assist, Courtney Wilson had four kills and nine digs, Jamiyah Covington had four kills, two aces, and three digs, Michaela Mills had three kills, 19 assists, six aces, and three digs, Khris Carr had two kills, a solo block, a block assist, and six digs, Hannah Knox had two aces, Vicki Vo had five digs, and Vivian Barksdale had four digs.
Starkville will play host to the winner of the Ridgeland-Center Hill match on Thursday at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.