October 16, 2012 9:48:46 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Porchia Brooks doesn't walk into the circle intending to put a certain amount of spin on the softball.
Instead, the Columbus High School slow-pitch softball pitcher looks at coach Jaime Ellis-Melton before each pitch and does her best to follow her instructions.
Timaria Hudgins doesn't have a notebook filled with motivational or inspirational sayings to get her teammates pumped up.
The Columbus High infielder only knows it is her job to keep the Lady Falcons focused and enthusiastic through the ups and downs that come every game.
That strategy has worked exceptionally well for Ellis-Melton and Columbus this season. It has been so effective that Columbus (15-5) is two victories away from reaching its goal of getting to Jackson to play for the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A state title.
On Saturday, Hudgins had three hits and Brooks added four to help Columbus beat Clinton in a best-of-three series in Columbus.
For their accomplishments, Hudgins and Brooks are The Dispatch's co-Players of the Week.
If Columbus wants to take the next step and get to the Class 6A championship series, it will have to win its best-of-three North State championship series at Grenada to keep its season alive. Game one begins at 3:30 p.m. today.
"The difference is this group wants it, and they know what they have to do to get where we have got to go," Ellis-Melton said. "The leadership they have is great. Porchia and Timaria have been the strongest ones. They kept the team going."
Columbus earned the district title in a tiebreaker that also involved Grenada. The Lady Falcons took the championship, their first in 12 years, thanks to run differential. Their opponent today, Grenada, went three games to eliminate Madison Central, the team that swept Columbus last season in the first round.
This season, Ellis-Melton has looked to Brooks and Hudgins to provide the mind-set her team needs to be successful. Brooks, Hudgins, Shanqula Fulton, Shaquera Wilson, Kadaryl Ledbetter, Kiara Conner, and Sinetra Sykes responded by earning all-district honors. The rest of the Lady Falcons supported a team effort that has helped the program grow.
Ellis-Melton has looked to Brooks to set the tone. Even in slow pitch, Ellis-Melton said pitcher is a key position because she can keep an opponent off balance with the right spin, location, and depth to her pitches.
"She has done a great job," Ellis-Melton said of Brooks. "This year, she has really come on strong and with hitting her locations and putting the backspin on it."
Brooks, who pitched last season, said she just takes her hand back and moves it forward on every pitch. She hopes a strike is the result every time. Even though she knows that is unlikely, she knows she plays a pivotal role in getting hitters to reach at pitches or to keep them from driving balls into the gaps.
Brooks said she and the Lady Falcons "are more advanced" and are ready to to take the next step.
"If I am doing my job, the team will do their job," Brooks said. "If I am not doing my job, the team can't get right. I want to do the job to the best of my ability. I feel like if I go out there and set the tone, my team will follow behind me."
Ellis-Melton also believes Hudgins has taken to her leadership role. With only one senior (Ledbetter) on the team, Ellis-Melton has asked the players to keep each other up and motivated. She said Hudgins did just that Saturday, giving the team a lift after it lost game two 4-3 and faced elimination.
"She is very vocal," Ellis-Melton said. "She will say how it is sand say, 'Y'all get down for no reason,' or 'Y'all act like it is over and done with. W can come back and win this game.' The way she says it makes everybody laugh. She gets very upset and she will tell them straight out. She is very vocal with it and very honest. It is great to have one like that."
Hudgins has anchored shortstop and third base this season, giving Columbus one of the best gloves on the team, according to Brooks. While she admits she is still improving as a hitter, Hudgins feels she has made an impact on the team by saying the right things at the right times to keep everyone in the game.
Combined, Brooks and Hudgins have proven to be a source of strength for the Lady Falcons.
"I like (raising everyone's spirits) because that makes me feel like I am a leader on the team," Hudgins said. "Sometimes players get down and I come by and boost them up and tell them to get their heads up. I like being a leader and picking my girls up and helping them get prepared.
"I had to keep them up Saturday. If I didn't, we would have just went down. They were dropping their heads because they made this error or that error. I told them to get them the next time and to get up and that y'all still got it because the fat lady hasn't started singing yet."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.