August 26, 2009 9:26:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
A program develops constants in winning 11 state titles.
Defense has been one of the benchmarks for the New Hope High School slow-pitch softball team.
But as stingy as the Lady Trojans have been defensively, their hitting has adapted to the strengths of the players from title to title.
Some years New Hope has relied on its power hitters to fuel the offense. In other seasons -- like in 2008 -- it has blended line drive hitters with speed to deliver a consistent attack.
And while the 2009 team remains a work in progress, New Hope continues to make strides every game to becoming the offensive team coach Tabitha Beard knows it can be.
Ashley Boyle, Anna McCrary, and Anna Holley had RBIs in a four-run sixth inning that helped New Hope beat Eupora 5-1.
New Hope (3-4) had five hits in the sixth and four in the first when it scored its other run. Other than that, though, the Lady Trojans mustered only a single by Brandi Brantley.
Inconsistent hitting like that has puzzled Beard, who has watched her team struggle against some of the state''s top teams.
"It is the definition of frustration," Beard said when asked what it has been like to watch her team try to get a rally started. "It is very, very frustrating, especially when you know how good they can do and they''re just not doing it. We do it all day in practice and we get out here and we don''t do it."
Beard said the Lady Trojans haven''t found their consistency at the plate despite strong defense and solid pitching by Morgan Hardin and Rachel Rhoades.
New Hope''s defensive performance is even more impressive when you consider the team lost outfielders DeShuni Sanders and Victoria Culpepper and third baseman Kristen Harvey to graduation.
The Lady Trojans also are adjusting to life without senior outfielder Kelli Petty, who started the season with the squad but no longer is a member of the team, Beard said.
Against Eupora, the defensive plays came from shortstop D.J. Sanders, who started a double play in the second inning, left fielder Haley Tutor, who made a fine catch going back to the wall on a well-hit ball in the fifth, right fielder McCrary, who threw out a runner at third on the back end of a double play, and right-center fielder Boyle, who made two fine running catches in the seventh to help preserve the victory.
"Ashley Boyle has done a wonderful, wonderful job not only in the field but also at the plate," Beard said.
New Hope has had to play defense that well, Beard said, because the players haven''t found their rhythm at the plate.
"Defensively we have to be flawless," Beard said. "With us not hitting, the first error can blow it. That happened to us against Northeast Lauderdale (in a loss in the team''s first game of the season). We had two walks and three or four errors. Are we anywhere close to where we need to be? I don''t think so. I think we are getting there and progressing in the right direction."
On Tuesday, leadoff hitter Lauren Holifield started the bottom of the sixth with a line drive that went over the left fielder''s head for a double. Tutor followed with a single deep to center field that was misplayed for an error, which allowed Holifield to score.
After that, the hitting appeared to be contagious.
Sanders lined out to left-center field, Anna Hodson reached on an infield hit, Taylor Brown walked, Boyle drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, McCrary reached on an infield single to shortstop that scored a run, and Holley capped the uprising with a double.
"Tonight, for the first time, we stepped up at the end and hit," Beard said. "We''re getting there, but we have to be more consistent."
Boyle had a single in the first and two RBIs. She said the Lady Trojans found a spark in the sixth that helped them pull their record closer to .500. She said team has come together despite some struggles and is working hard to find its collective stroke at the plate.
"We know we can do it. We do it every year," Boyle said. "We just need a lot of practice."
There''s no doubt the Lady Trojans will get plenty of that as they try to add another title to their resume.
Tutor said she, too, has been frustrated by the Lady Trojans'' lack of hitting because she knows the team has the potential. She said New Hope''s 14-6 victory against Quitman on Saturday at the Meridian High tournament could be the spark that gets the team going.
Unfortunately, New Hope followed that victory up with a 4-3 loss to West Lauderdale in eight innings.
Tutor acknowledged the Lady Trojans still have some work to do, but she believes in this year''s team.
"I think we can pull it through this year," Tutor said. "The Quitman game (when the team scored 10 runs in the first inning) really brought my confidence up and it showed me we can do it. We just have to work hard and believe in ourselves."
n New Hope won the junior varsity game 6-1.
Rhoades had two singles and an RBI, Kayla Scarborough had a single and an RBI, Kaitlyn Bradley had two hits, including a double, and an RBI, Kasey Stanfield and Boyle had singles, and Sanders had a double.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.