October 12, 2012 11:27:40 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
The foundation has solidified.
A year ago, Jaime Ellis-Melton felt the Columbus High School slow-pitch softball team might have established a foundation on which to build a program when it had its first winning season in a number of years and advanced to the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A North State playoffs.
In year two as head coach, Ellis-Melton has turned her attention to the first and second floor. The program took the next step this season, winning a three-team tiebreaker to capture the district title, its first in 12 years, according to Ellis-Melton.
At 1 p.m. Saturday, Columbus (13-4) will play host to Grenada in the second round of the Class 6A North State playoffs.
"We're still climbing," Ellis-Melton said. "We came in this season and focused on heart, plus motivation, plus dedication, plus teamwork, equals success. I had a great squad last year. This year, these girls want it."
Last year, Columbus swept Tupelo and South Panola in its district and defeated New Hope. It lost to Madison Central 12-3 and 22-15 in the best-of-three playoff series, but Ellis-Melton saw plenty of things to build on.
Columbus continued that development this season, sweeping South Panola, beating New Hope again as well as tradition-rich programs like Smithville. It split district games with Grenada and Tupelo and finished with a better run differential to take the tiebreaker and the district title.
With seven players earning all-district honors, Ellis-Melton feels the program's fortunes are on the rise. She said hitting remains a strength and that defense continues to improve. She credits Cary Shepherd and Kathi Coleman, two of her former coaches at New Hope High, where she played softball, and her father, Wayne, for helping her instill the discipline and structure the Columbus High program needed to be able to compete with the best teams in the state.
Ellis-Melton said the relationships she built with her players last season in the slow- and fast-pitch seasons made it easier for her to come back and ask the players to be even more committed. She said they responded -- as have the parents of the players -- which has made instilling a hard-working, no-excuses program easier.
The fact that the Lady Falcons can slug with the state's top teams doesn't hurt, either.
Ellis-Melton knows Saturday's best-of-three series will be a challenge, but she feels her team is capable of excelling. She said the fact each player gets 200 cuts at each practice makes them even more comfortable at the plate. "They have really worked hard, and we have worked fundamentals after fundamentals after fundamentals," Ellis-Melton said. "They gave it their all this year. They really wanted it. You had one senior -- Kadaryl Ledbetter -- leading 24 girls, and she has done a great job. She has had a lot riding on her. We also have had an outstanding pitcher (Porchia Brooks) who is one of the best as far as locating the pitchers where I need her to locate them."
Ledbetter and Brooks were all-district picks.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.