August 14, 2009 9:06:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
The New Hope High School slow-pitch softball team is going to have a little bit of everything this season.
The Lady Trojans are young and inexperienced at several positions.
Coach Tabitha Beard''s team also has an assortment of "older" players who have been with the program for two to three years and who are used to advancing deep into the playoffs and competing for state titles.
Last season was no exception.
New Hope beat Quitman for its 11 state title in school history. It then followed that up with a successful fast-pitch season in which it lost to Cleveland at home in game three of the best-of-three third-round series.
Beard and the Lady Trojans will try to recapture the championship magic without Victoria Culpepper, Kristen Harvey, and DeShuni Sanders, three key components of both squads.
New Hope will begin that journey Saturday when it faces Starkville (9 a.m.) and Clarksdale (4:30 p.m.) on Saturday at the Eupora Tournament.
Beard said the Lady Trojans will lack the power hitting of years past but their defense will remain a constant.
"We''re still going to focus on defense and still play great defense to win," Beard said. "We''re not going to be a real power-hitting team. We''re going to have to rely on those basehits that we did so well putting together last year and get back to that this year."
Beard said her players will have to be smart and selective at the plate and swing at pitches they can drive or hit on the ground to help move baserunners. Doing things right at the late will be a key, she said, because junior outfielder Haley Tutor likely will be one of the team''s few power hitters.
Eighth-grader D.J. Sanders showed an ability to drive the ball in fast-pitch season, but she will have to adjust to the pitching this season in what could be her first extended playing time in a slow-pitch season.
Senior outfielder Kelli Petty said this year''s team is "young, young, young," and that everyone will have buy into the program''s tradition if the team wants to play for another state championship.
New Hope won the Class 4A slow-pitch title last season. It will play in Class 5A this season.
"We have the same potential as any other team. We just have to step up and play," Petty said. "We have to pick each other up like we did last year. It is going to be about the same. It is going to be a matter of how hard we work and how dedicated we are to winning."
Seniors Morgan Hardin, a transfer from Heritage Academy, and Empress Shirley also will compete for playing time.
Shortstop Anna Holley will lead a seven-player junior class that includes pitcher Rachel Rhoades, first baseman Brandi Brantley, and outfielders Jessica Moore, Hillary Forrester, and Kayla Scarborough.
Holley, who played catcher on the fast-pitch team, said the team will be young and experienced because she believes players like herself, who have played in the program for a number of years, are back. She said players like sophomore infielder Anna Hodson, freshman Lauren Holifield (a pitcher on the fast-pitch team), and Sanders earned a lot of playing time in fast-pitch and this summer.
She said the program''s tradition will help everyone succeed.
"I think we''ll do OK," Holley said. "I think the younger players have seen us and we have seen the Rachel Baucoms and the Linsey Uptons (former New Hope High standouts). That gives us experience playing with former players who were so great and who already have won. They showed out school what championships are all about. Our new players are stepping up because (winning) is all they know."
Sophomores Jordan Johnson, Anna McCrary, Taylor Brown, Ashley Boyle, and Lexie Burchfield, freshmen Kasey Stanfield, Erin Stanfield, and Ashley Reed, eighth-graders Alex Jones, R.J. James, and Kaitlin Bradley, and seventh-grader Abby Wilson also will compete for playing time on the varsity team.
Tutor, who will moved from right field to left field, said the team is working to improve its hitting so it can find its stroke in time for district play. She is confident the Lady Trojans can overcome the loss of three key players to make another title run.
"I think once we get practice in and play games and see how much it is worth to us and get that flow back, then we''re really going to want it and work hard for it and strive for it," Tutor said. "I think we can."
New Hope opened its season last week at a jamboree in which it defeated Southeast Lauderdale 6-2 and tied Clarksdale.
"It''s going to be a gradual process at the beginning of the season, like it was last season, but I think they''re going to pull it through. They''re working real hard and I am hoping it will pay off."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.