April 24, 2014 11:21:54 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
It isn't often in the state of Mississippi that fans are treated to a high school fast-pitch softball game that features two pitchers slated to go to Division I schools.
But that was the case Thursday night at Lady Trojan Field, as Madi Moore and the Winfield (Ala.) High School Lady Pirates squared off against D.J. Sanders and the New Hope High Lady Trojans.
Even though Sanders, a senior who will play softball at Louisiana-Lafayette, had four hits off Moore, a junior who already has given a verbal commitment to play at Alabama, Winfield had the better fortune at the plate en route to a 7-2 victory.
The game was a great final regular-season test for New Hope (15-6-1), which will play Lewisburg or Ridgeland in the Class 5A North State playoffs on Monday. Game 1 of the best-of-three series will be at Lewisburg or Ridgeland. Game 2 and 3, if needed, will be Tuesday in Columbus.
New Hope coach Tabitha Beard said the Lady Trojans most likely won't see any pitcher better than Moore, a left-hander who struck out 11 and allowed only five hits in the complete-game effort. Kerrington Jones' single in the third inning was New Hope's only other hit.
Sanders had four singles and two stolen bases.
"If nothing else I want it to give us a little confidence because if you would have seen us play there and here, we might not have hit great, but it was a vast improvement," Beard said. "I feel like all I can ask for us is to improve against something like that. I don't think anybody in our state has anything like (Moore)."
Winfield (25-9) was playing without three injured players (first base, shortstop, and second base). The Lady Pirates, who play in Class 3A in a state that has six classifications, received two hits apiece from Emma Atkinson and Moore.
With only four seniors, including one who has signed to play at Wallace State (Ala.) Community College-Hanceville and another who likely will go to Birmingham Southern, the Lady Pirates rode the left arm of Moore, who gave a verbal commitment to attend Alabama last July.
Moore, who throws in the low to mid 60s, used a riseball and a curveball to keep the Lady Trojans off balance. She said she isn't asked a lot about her intentions to go to Alabama, which like Louisiana-Lafayette is one of the nation's top programs, but she said it is something that she can't wait to do.
"It is a huge deal. It is my dream come true," Moore said. "Ever since I was a little that is where I wanted to go."
Moore didn't feel she was overpowering Thursday night. She said the riseball was "OK" and that it can be her best pitch on nights it is on.
"I did well enough to get the job done, but I don't think it was my best performance," Moore said. "You could always do better."
Beard talked to her team for nearly 20 minutes and tried to convey to her players that they play great teams so they are ready for anything.
However, she hopes the team will bring more intensity for seven innings for as long as it stays alive the rest of the season. She said after the game the Lady Trojans, who have only five seniors, are relying on a lot of young players and, as a result, sometimes the intensity isn't where she wants it to be.
"We have some issues that are running through with a lack of things that I can't coach that they have to find within themselves," Beard said. "I think a lot of that is with a lot of young girls on the field it is easy to get discouraged."
Beard has tried to remedy that by being more of a cheerleader throughout the season. Still, she said she needs some of the more experienced players to fill some of the leadership roles. If that happens, she loves the team's shot to make a run at a state title.
"I believe in every one of them," Beard said. "We have eight games. If they will give everything they have for eight games and will believe in each other as much as I believe in them, we will be fine.
"We're going to make some defensive miscues. Mistakes are going to happen, but it is how we react to those. That is what I am more frustrated by at the moment than anything is how we are reacting to bad things."
Beard said that wasn't the case in a 6-2 victory against Saltillo on Tuesday. She said the team received a huge lift from freshman outfielder Lanora Abrams, who made a diving, twisting, rolling play. The defensive gem provided a spark that helped the team clinch the Region 2 title. But Beard wants the Lady Trojans to know they can play with that level of emotion and intensity without someone having to make a SportsCenter Top 10 play.
Beard praised Sanders for doing everything she can to help the team.
On Thursday, she struck out eight and walked four. She surrendered eight hits, including two extra-base hits.
"At the plate, she has been golden," Beard said. "In the circle, she is doing the best she can with some of the circumstances. We just have to keep playing and believing, and, hopefully, the results will be there."
One of the circumstances Beard is referring to is not having catcher MacKenzie Harvey, who had been out with a concussion and a bacterial infection. Beard hopes Harvey will be cleared Saturday so she will be able to return to practice Sunday in time for the start of the playoffs. If Harvey doesn't return, eighth-grader Megan James likely will handle the catching duties.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.