April 23, 2013 10:32:17 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
CALEDONIA -- The Caledonia High School fast-pitch softball team has had many twists and turns this season.
The good news is the Lady Confederates are still on the road.
Caledonia extended its season Monday with a 5-1 victory against Senatobia in the deciding game of a best-of-three series in the play-in round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A North State playoffs. Caledonia won game one 3-2 Saturday in Senatobia before Senatobia earned a 4-3 victory in the first game Monday.
Caledonia will face Corinth in the first-round, best-of-three series that will open Friday at Caledonia. It will travel Saturday to Corinth to complete the series. Game times will be announced later this week.
"We really wanted to prove we weren't just a one-round team in the playoffs," Caledonia senior pitcher Cara Hopper said. "I am proud of the girls for really stepping it up after such a big loss. It's hard to keep your head up after that. Had we kept our heads down after the first game, things might have been different."
Caledonia appeared in cruise control in game two before Senatobia struck for four runs in the seventh inning. But the Lady Confederates regrouped to win a playoff series for the first time since 2007.
For Caledonia coach Robin Elmore, a fast start in the second game quickly eased the frustration.
"It's very disheartening to be three outs away (from winning the series) and then suddenly losing," Elmore said. "I thought the first inning of the second game was critical. We had a fast start. All of a sudden the disappointment goes away and you are locked in on winning that game."
Caledonia has been battling adversity for the past week. Senior catcher Taylor Renth suffered a broken fibula Thursday in a collision at the plate in a game against Hamilton.
"It was a very big blow for us because she is one of our leaders," Elmore said. "We had to change some things around on the fly. I am really proud of the girls for responding. It's like I told them in the service, when a solider falls in the field, you don't leave them on the field of battle. You pick them up and tote them. That is what I told the team after the game (Thursday). Now is the time you need to pick her up and tote her."
Renth had established herself as the team's vocal leader on the field. She continued to offer that leadership Monday from the dugout with crutches in hand.
"I am beyond proud of my teammates," Renth said. "They have done beyond anything I could ask. With Cassie (Obman) stepping in at catcher and other players moving around, I am really proud of them. It really is great they were able to come back after a loss like that."
Elmore was worried about her team's frame of mind after the Renth injury, but it responded with a hard-fought victory in game one.
"It was such a good win and we were able to build on it in the first game," Elmore said. "I wasn't sure how we were going to react Saturday. We got contributions from several players and found a way."
The Lady Confederates had to find a way again in game three. They scored three times in the first, including a two-run single by eighth-grader Kaylee Jernigan.
"Most of (Jernigan's) at-bats have come in junior varsity games," Elmore said. "She was up there in a big spot with the bases loaded. I was praying for her. After the inning, she told me she had been praying, too. What a big hit for an eighth-grader."
Renth said the ability to have so many players deliver big hit is a major reason why Caledonia is still playing. "We have really grown a lot as a team," Renth said. "This really is a team this year. We don't have cliques like we did in the past. We are sisters off the field. We love one another. If we have disputes off the field, it doesn't come onto the field. We try to work through everything together."
Sarah Beth Kinard added an RBI single to close the first. While the offense was nice, Elmore thought a critical double play in the top half of the first helped the momentum swung back to the home team.
After Senatobia closed within 3-1, Caledonia scored twice in the home half of the fourth. An RBI single by Hopper was the big blow.
Caledonia had nine hits. Hope Burton, Hopper and Jernigan each had multiple hits. Hopper retired seven of the final eight after being given the 5-1 lead.
"We really worked too hard to get to this point," Hopper said. "We weren't about to let another lead get away. Last season was disappointing (a play-in round series loss to Pontotoc). Our goal from the beginning of this season was to do bigger and better. Now we have done just that."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter