May 4, 2013 11:05:47 PM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
The temptation was there all day for Kaitlin Bradley and the rest of the New Hope High School fast-pitch softball team.
Bradley and the Lady Trojans knew McComb High pitcher Kamry Creel wasn't overpowering. They also learned from a scouting report that Creel likes to work the outside corner and dares hitters to remain disciplined.
A week's worth of preparation hitting off batting tees primed New Hope for a battle of temptation. Bradley and her teammates showed Saturday it is possible to hit the ball just as hard to the right side.
Bradley had a two-run triple as part of New Hope's 11-hit attack in a 9-0 victory in game two of a doubleheader at Lady Trojan Field. Coupled with a 7-0 victory in game one, New Hope (26-1) swept the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State semifinal-round series.
"I think it was a small adjustment for some people, but for other people it might have been a big adjustment because they weren't used to it," said Bradley, the team's third baseman. "It was an easy adjustment for me because I like outside pitches."
New Hope made just two outs on fly balls in game two. Thanks to a complete-game two-hitter by D.J. Sanders, New Hope only needed an RBI single by Kasey Stanfield that scored Lauren Holifield in the bottom of the first inning. Stanfield's hit, like Holifield's, went to the right side as the Lady Trojans, who had eight right-handed hitters against the right-hander Creel, didn't try to pull the ball or do too much. Instead, they worked counts and hit a deluge of foul balls and made Creel come to them.
Bradley's hit in the third was a perfect example. She worked the count to 3-2 before getting a pitch she drove into the right-field corner that scored two and provided a little insurance.
"I think I hit harder to the right side than to the left because I can put my body into it," Bradley said. "I didn't think I would be able to hit it as hard as I did, but I guess good things happen. I tried not to reach for pitches and to hit it as hard as I could."
New Hope coach Tabitha Beard praised Creel for being an effective control pitcher and keeping her players off balance. She liked how the Lady Trojans buckled down in game two and did a better job of driving the ball.
"(Creel) did a good job," Beard said. "They did hit better in the second game. It seemed not to be as much in the air. ... We wanted to make them to make plays."
New Hope capitalized on three errors in a six-run fifth that put the game away. Sanders had an RBI single, Kasey Stanfield had a two-run singles, and Kaitlin Oswalt had a two-run single.
Beard also liked her team's attention to detail better than she did in a two-game series against Oxford in the previous round. Following a 17-1 victory against Oxford in game two, Beard was disappointed the Lady Trojans didn't pay attention to details she feels will be crucial if the team wants to play for another state championship. In fact, Beard shouted, "Great job Taylor Blevins" after the right fielder backed up first base and retrieved a throw from Bradley to first base on an attempt to complete a 1-5-3 double play.
"I was more happy with the hustle aspect of things," Beard said. "We hustled better, which was nice."
The victories helped New Hope, the 2012 state runner-up, secure a spot in the next round against the winner of the Lake Cormorant-Neshoba Central series. That North State championship series will be Friday and Monday at times and sites to be determined.
Holifield pitched a complete game in the opener. She teamed with Bradley and Stanfield to spark an offense that adjusted to Creel.
McComb High coach Cody Hall thought Creel did a good job keeping New Hope off guard, but he said his team's defense didn't play as well as it needed, especially against a one-two pitching performance like Holifield and Sanders, who struck out seven, including the final two in the top of the seventh to work out of a bases-loaded jam.
"They did a great job executing what they had to do to win a ballgame today," said Hall, whose team finished 18-10 and won its fourth consecutive district title. "Their pitchers did a great job. Holifield did a great job throwing the off-speed stuff and working her junk around the zone. We struggle with that. Sanders came in and threw a hard ball and threw it by you. You try to duplicate that in practice as much as you can, but it is tough. It is tough until you actually see it in the circle. You don't see a girl who throws as hard as that every day. We had a hard time adjusting to that today."
Beard isn't sure if New Hope will have to make any other big adjustment in the next round or in the state title series. Her team's showing Saturday indicates it might have learned a valuable lesson in how to attack a scouting report. With Holifield and Sanders solid in the circle, Beard knows the slightest adjustment may make a difference.
Bradley likes what her team showed, too. She also feels the Lady Trojans can do even better.
"I think we played good," Bradley said. "We have to work on hitting a little more and not popping the ball up. ... I like where we are, but there is still more room for improvement."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.