October 14, 2012 1:21:23 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Jaime Ellis-Melton needs a rest.
As a former softball player at New Hope High School, Ellis-Melton knows something about tradition, so the drama of playoff competition shouldn't faze her.
But Ellis-Melton is discovering life is a little more agonizing when you're a coach.
The Columbus High School slow-pitch softball team made life tough for its second-year coach Saturday. Columbus beat Clinton in game one 9-2, lost game two 4-3 when the potential tying run was thrown out at third base, and rallied to win game three 7-3 in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A North State playoffs at Lady Falcon Field.
With the series victory, Columbus (15-5), which won its district for the first time in 12 years, will advance to the best-of-three North State title series against the winner of the Grenada-Madison Central series. That series will be Tuesday at a site and a time to be determined.
"I need a rest," Ellis-Melton said immediately after game three.
Ellis-Melton and the Lady had a slumber party Friday night to prepare for their first home softball playoff series. It took until the bottom of the sixth inning in game one for the Lady Falcons' bats to wake up. When they did, Columbus had eight consecutive players reach in a seven-run inning in which it had seven hits.
But the momentum was short-lived. After getting 14 hits in game one, Columbus had 11 in game two, but managed only single runs in the second, sixth, and seventh innings. A single by Shaquera Wilson put Columbus in a position to score more than one run in the top of the seventh, but a throw from catcher Madison Smith to third base erased the runner trying to go to third.
In game three, Kiara Conner had a two-run single in the bottom of the first. Shanqula Fulton had an RBI single in the second, Teauna Edwards had an RBI single in the third, and Sinetra Sykes had a two-run single in the fourth as the Falcons kept the pressure on the Lady Arrows (21-11).
When pitcher Porchia Brooks recorded the final out -- a line drive to third base, the Lady Falcons celebrated near third base while Ellis-Melton came out of the dugout and bent at the waist full of emotion. A few seconds later, she took a hug from her sister, Mandy Clark, and rejoined the celebration with her team.
The finish capped a wild afternoon of emotion in which Ellis-Melton thought Columbus could get out of the first round in two games.
"We have to do things the hard way, but that's OK," Ellis-Melton said. "They need more practice to get us ready. I knew they would pull it out. I prayed they would pull it out."
After losing a possible chance in the top of the seventh inning, Ellis-Melton wasn't going to give up. Even though her team was tired, she urged her players to keep their heads up and their energy level high because they were so close to Jackson.
"They like to give me a scare," Ellis-Melton said. "I am used to that."
Ellis-Melton said the coaches tweaked the Lady Falcons at the plate by having them back off the plate. She also said the Lady Falcons saw the ball much better, which enabled them to make better contact.
Not only did Columbus come up with the timely hitting in game three, it also flashed some fundamental softball to keep its season alive. Leading 7-3 in the sixth inning, Clinton had its leadoff hitter erased on a fielder's choice, but the throw back to first base went past the base. Fulton, the catcher, backed up the play and corralled the loose ball and threw to second base to end the inning.
At a stretch in which any mistake could have resulted in an uprising, it was fitting that a fine defensive play helped Columbus move closer to a championship date in Jackson.
"I was remembering what the coach said because we are always supposed to back up our team," Fulton said. "This feels wonderful."
Fulton and Brooks agreed the Lady Falcons have come a "looong" way since last year, when they advanced to the playoffs and lost in two games to Madison Central. Ellis-Melton acknowledges her team still has work to do defensively, as evidenced by some inconsistent play in game one, but the players are confident Saturday's performance is another step in the development of the program.
"Us losing the second game was an eye-opener because that made us realize it is not going to be easy," Brooks said. "The third game was us realizing we have to do this now because we are trying to get to state. That is our only goal, and any obstacle that we try we are going to overcome. We have to.
"Last year, being swept by Madison Central in two games and now us just competing, that is showing progress. I am proud for us."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.