October 23, 2013 10:19:57 AM
Scott Walters - email@example.com
HAMILTON -- Hamilton High School junior second baseman Addie Thompson spent two hours Sunday at the Hamilton Softball Field working on her game.
In determined solitude, Thompson took several cuts off a tee. She was looking for a way out of a depressing late-season slump.
"I had been really down on myself," Thompson said. "Before the games (Tuesday night), I prayed to God and asked for help. I was really at peace with myself when I got to the plate."
Thompson's peace turned out to be Smithville's worst nightmare.
Thompson put her practice technique to good use, busted the slump, and collected six hits as Hamilton beat Smithville 5-3 and 9-2 to win the best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 1A North State slow-pitch softball championship.
A year after winning the Class 2A title, Hamilton will face Stringer in a best-of-three series Saturday at Freedom Ridge Park in Ridgeland for the Class 1A championship. The first game is at 10:30 a.m.
"This is really exciting," said Hamilton senior right center fielder Cheyenne Logan, as she fought back tears and shared hugs with teammates, family members, and friends. "This is a huge deal around here. For the seniors, this is special. These are my teammates, but they are also family. I am playing with people would do anything for you. That is why this is special."
Thompson hit a game-winning two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning to win Game 1. She was 4-for-4 in Game 2.
"(The first game home run) was the best feeling in the world," Thompson said. "I knew I was finally out of my slump. I almost felt tears. I was so excited running around the bases. It had been a long time coming. It was like everything was right again."
Even with five seniors and a state championship from last season in the trophy case, Hamilton coach Bryan Loague felt an uneasiness before playing his Monroe County rivals for a shot to go to the state finals.
"We were as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs," Loague said. "It took a long time to settle down and just play softball. Once we did that, we were fine. It is a tremendous advantage to win the first game. After that, the girls relaxed and played like that was no pressure on them since it was not a must-win situation. When we are relaxed and having fun, we are pretty good."
The first game swung in the Smithville sixth inning. Down 3-2, the Seminoles loaded the bases and then tied the game. With one out, Hamilton worked out of that tight spot and kept the score tied. In the bottom half of the inning, Logan smoked a base hit before Thompson lined a no-doubter into an overflow crowd in the student section beyond the center-field fence.
"I sensed (Thompson) might have a special night," Loague said. "She worked two hours by herself out here Sunday. It was just working on her hands and working her timing. She just took cut after cut. She is a team leader, and she was trying desperately to find a way to help her team in the biggest games of their season.
"The team is full of dedicated players like that. Monday, I had to run them off the field around 5:30 so I could line the field and get it ready for tonight. Then the girls come back later and see the lights are still on and they get back on the field. This team is consumed with being the best they possibly can be. That is how you win championships."
In Game 2, Hamilton scored two runs in its initial at-bat. Smithville answered with two runs in the home half of the first but couldn't match the initial flurry.
"Scoring first in the second game was really big," Logan said. "We had all of the momentum (after winning the opener). That gave us the motivation to keep going from there. Whether we are tied or down, we are going to keep fighting. It is a lot easier when you start strong like we did. We all want the same dream and we are going to for it."
Hamilton led 3-2 when Smithville loaded the bases with three straight hits in the third. Senior Alison Atkins then worked Hamilton out of that at-bat with two ground balls and a lineout. Hamilton wasn't threatened again.
"The third inning was big," Loague said. "It totally deflated them."
Hamilton put the game away with three runs in the fourth and two runs in the fifth.
A 16-hit attack also included three hits by Atkins and Logan and two hits from Taylor Hyland. Thompson, Logan, and Hyland each hit home runs in Game 2.
The other key was defense, where Hamilton made only one error (with two outs in the seventh). Left-center fielder Raimi Bryan had three spectacular catches.
"We have hit 30 to 35 home runs this year, so that is not a surprise," Loague said. "We have seven or eight players who can hit it out. And on defense, we have two seniors (Bryan and Logan) up the middle in the outfield. I feel like we have the best outfield in North Mississippi."
On Saturday, Hamilton will have a chance to show it is one of the best in the state.
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter