October 16, 2012 9:50:07 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
A pitcher and a catcher have a special relationship.
Sometimes all it takes is a look or a slight gesture to deliver a message or to indicate which pitch to throw, or where to put it.
Other times, all it takes is a word from one member of the battery to get the other back in line.
In the case of New Hope High School catcher Mackenzie Harvey, all she needs to do is to sing a little of "What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction and whatever is ailing pitcher Hope Williams vanishes in a smile.
"I guess I am a smily person, but when I am down you can tell because I am not smiling," Williams said. "She will tell and she will just start singing, and then I will start laughing."
Harvey hopes she won't have to break out in song tonight when New Hope (25-5) plays host to Neshoba Central in the best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State title series at Lady Trojan Field. Game one begins at 5 p.m. The winner will advance to the best-of-three state championship Saturday in Jackson.
Singing a chorus that begins "Baby you light up my world like nobody else" might sound like an unusual way to help someone re-focus, but it's an easy way for Harvey to help her best friend shake off any distractions and to help her relax. It's a role that comes easily to Harvey.
"I try to lift the team up, I try to have a good attitude, and I try to get everybody cheering and everybody into the game," Harvey said.
Williams said singing is just one thing Harvey does that calms her down. She said both players have played softball together since youth ball, so they know things they can do to help one another get a hit or to put a pitch in the right spot.
On previous teams, Harvey, who used to play third base, wound move to the circle to give Williams a high-five after a strikeout or an out. These days, singing, or even a smile, will do the trick, especially when New Hope coach Tabitha Beard is encouraging Williams to do her best in the circle.
Harvey, whose sister, Kristen, played third base for New Hope's slow- and fast-pitch teams, has attracted Beard's attention, so she understands what he needs to do when Williams rolls her eyes, when she loses the smile that is typically is on her face, or when she is not "in the right state of mind."
"I just know what she is thinking," Williams said of Harvey. "If coach Beard is being real hard on me or something, which I know she is trying to make me better at what I am doing, she is just like, 'Just get it, but let it go at the same time. Don't keep it there bottled up. You're not doing bad, she just wants better."
Said Harvey, "(Coach Beard) has pushed me and I know if you hang on to something, you're not going to do as well as you could, so I sort of know how she feels."
Beard said the friendship Harvey and Williams share has helped them transition to big roles on this season's team. Harvey contributed as a hitter last season in New Hope's fifth straight state title, and 14th overall, but this year both have emerged as contributors in a tradition-rich program.
"I tend to ride Hope a little hard at times," Beard said. "She has moments where I go, 'Did I not tell you 500 times not to pitch the ball flat?' It comes with this being her first year on the field with us. Mackenzie seems to calm her down better than anyone else, especially when I am on her pretty hard."
Beard said she is "in Williams' ear" so much because she wants her instructions to become second nature to Williams, especially against great teams like Neshoba Central that will make her pay for pitches that don't make hitters uncomfortable.
Beard also hopes her encouragement helps set an example for Williams and Harvey and the rest of the younger players on the roster. With four seniors and five juniors, those younger players will get their opportunities to contribute very soon, so they need to be ready. That's why she is thankful to have someone like Harvey to help Williams work through the ups and downs.
"Mackenzie is one of those kids who is just like Kristen was," Beard said. "They are not going to say a whole lot, but you always know they get it because they are always going to give 100 percent to do what you just asked them to do."
It just so happens singing is one thing New Hope has needed to keep its hopes for a sixth consecutive state alive.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.