July 13, 2013 9:19:06 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Dedicated. Driven. Determined.
At some level, Lauren Holifield recognized she had those qualities growing up and applied them to everything she did.
It didn't take long, though, for Holifield to discover those traits took on a life of their own when she played softball.
The process started when Holifield watched her mother, Connie Sharpe, a former standout at Mississippi State University, and her sister, Tori Harris, play the sport. Throughout that developmental process, Holifield watched, learned, and absorbed. She picked up tendencies and habits and soon found herself in love with a game that was so much a part of her family's life.
"You have to work to get what you want, and I guess it is that way in life, too, so (softball) has helped me build a work ethic," Holifield said. "Now I can put it toward something other than softball. It also helped me work with other people."
Holifield put everything she learned into her final fast-pitch season at New Hope High School. Even though the Lady Trojans' run ended short of their goal to win the program's first fast-pitch state championship, Holifield left her mark as one of the school's all-time greats. In addition to earning All-State honors, the senior pitcher/infielder has been named The Dispatch's All-Area Fast-pitch Player of the Year.
"(Softball) has always been a part of my life," said Holifield, who twice has been named The Dispatch's All-Area Slow-pitch Player of the Year. "I don't think I could not love softball because it has always been there. If I didn't like softball, my life would be miserable because it is everywhere."
Holifield, a senior right-hander, will continue her softball career later this year at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville. She will follow in the footsteps of her mother, who remains in the MSU record books in several offensive categories, and her sister, a former standout at Birmingham Southern University. This past season, Holifield was 11-1 with a 1.17 ERA. She also had a batting average of .505 in the lead-off spot. She had 14 doubles, five triples, three home runs, and 41 runs scored.
Holifield admitted she has felt pressure to try to do what her sister, a former standout at New Hope High, did and to try to do something she never accomplished. The journey started in seventh grade, when Holifield earned playing time as a hitter on the school's slow-pitch softball team. In eighth grade, Holifield stepped into the circle and remained a fixture there throughout her prep career. Along the way, she developed into an imposing hitter who could mix power and placement.
While some may believe she plays the game with a cockiness, Holifield said that isn't the case. She said the experience she gained in middle school instilled a confidence in her that helped her become more mature. She said that confidence has helped her balance the pressure she felt growing up in an accomplished softball family.
"I had to be mature because I started playing earlier," said Holifield, who calls herself her worst critic. "I had to mature mentally faster than I think everybody had to, so nerves really don't get to me. The fact that I started varsity as an eighth-grader, that helped with my confidence. I was playing above a lot of players who were older than me. It was like being on the same level as they were, and it gave me so much confidence."
Sharpe, a longtime assistant coach to Tabitha Beard with New Hope High's softball program, said Lauren has been a wonderful student of the game. She said her daughter has studied the game and learned early on to trust what she was saying and to put it into action.
"When she was young, she used to let her emotions affect the way she played," Sharpe said. "That was something we brought up from little to young, especially when you're in the circle. You're cold as ice. You do your job, control what you can control. That is the way she has been taught and brought up. There is no emotion. It is one pitch at a time. I think that has helped her mature."
Sharpe credited Beard for nurturing Lauren's development through drills and training. Beard, in turn, has watched Holifield mature into an elite player and a fantastic representative of the program.
"Lauren is deeply motivated from within," Beard said in January when Holifield signed a scholarship to play for JCJC. "She has always been motivated to be the best and she doesn't settle for second place. Her work ethic throughout the year is what separates her from most, and is what has made her worthy of all of the accomplishments."
Holifield said it seems like yesterday that she was a seventh-grader starting out as a Lady Trojan. Since then, she said she never thought about how far she has come, but she acknowledges it is pretty remarkable she learned everything she did, honed those skills, and positioned herself to add another chapter to her family's rich softball tradition. That Holifield has done it by working hard and remaining dedicated to her craft make it even sweeter.
"I like where I am, but there is always room to improve," said Holifield, who credits her mother for being a great teacher and for making the lessons easier to understand. "I hope I can stay myself and become a better ballplayer, and maybe become a better leader."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.