October 16, 2009 9:02:00 AM
HAMILTON -- While the Hamilton High School slow-pitch softball team was gleefully chanting "Going to the ''ship, going to the ''ship" after its impressive sweep Thursday in the Class 2A North State, championship series, Baldwyn softball coach Jessica Taylor and her Lady Bearcats couldn''t help but wonder why the Lady Lions have proven to be such a formidable roadblock in their quest to reach the state championship series in Jackson.
Hamilton took the series with 12-3 and 12-1 victories.
"This makes five straight times we have eliminated them from the playoffs," said Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest, whose team improved to 17-9. "We''ve done it three years in a row in slow pitch, and our fast pitch team has eliminated them from the playoffs the last two years."
Baldwyn swept the home-and-away series in the regular season, 3-0 at Hamilton and 14-1 at Baldwyn, to drop the Lady Lions into second place in the final division standings with a 6-2 record.
"It was like two completely different teams out there tonight," Earnest said. "During the first two meetings, we didn''t play defense, and it is plain to see by the scores we didn''t hit the ball, either."
Baldwyn''s goal going into the North State was to inflict the same misery on Hamilton as the Lady Bearcats have suffered at the hands of the Lady Lions in recent postseason play. But a first-inning triple play, followed by back-to-back home runs by Chauncia Willis and Hannah Howell in the second inning, quashed any state championship notions Baldwyn may have entertained.
"The triple play was huge," Earnest said. "They had the bases loaded and no outs and had a chance for a really big inning, but the triple play turned the tables on them. Then we score three in the bottom of the inning and add seven more in the second thanks in part to Chauncia''s grand slam and a solo shot by Hannah (Howell) for a 10-0 lead. The grand slam was a big blow, which gave us a pretty good lead, and I think the combination of the two pretty well took the wind out of their sails while giving us a much-needed boost."
A pair of singles and an error loaded the bases for Baldwyn in the first, but cleanup hitter Consulea Starks flied out to Katie Beth Dahlem on a line drive for the first out. When Haley Hall failed to tag up at second, Dahlem fired a strike to Lyndsey Williams for the second out and then Williams threw Kayleigh Bishop out on a perfect throw to Howell at the plate for the third out.
"Looking back, without that triple play, the game could have gone in a completely opposite direction," Earnest said.
Hamilton''s defensive gem ignited the offense, which pounded 18 hits off eighth-grade pitcher Maggie Martin in the first game. All 10 starters chipped in with at least one hit, and eight of them also scored.
Pitcher Alison Atkins, who surrendered eight hits in the opener, started Hamilton''s onslaught with a leadoff single. She scored on a Anna Imel''s triple. Run-scoring singles by Howell and Shelby Savage scored Imel and Caitlyn Atkins to stretch the lead to 3-0 after one inning.
The Lady Lions sent 13 batters to the plate and added seven more runs in the bottom of the second, highlighted by Willis'' grand slam, which scored Emily Earnest and the Atkins sisters, followed by Howell''s solo shot over the right-center field fence.
Lexus Jordan, who led the inning off with a hit and scored on Alison Atkins'' single, also had an RBI with her second hit of the inning, which scored Savage.
Jordan also accounted for Hamilton''s 11th run in the bottom of the fourth when her third single of the game drove in Taylor Hyland, a courtesy runner for Howell.
The Atkins combo wrapped up the Lady Lions'' scoring effort in the fifth when Caitlyn plated Alison with a one-out double.
Rain showers moved in for the second game, but had little effect on the Lady Lions, who fell one hit short (17) of their first-game total in a mercy-rule victory that was called after five innings.
All 10 starters hit safely, as the Lady Lions posted five runs in the first, one in the second, three in the third, two in the fourth, and one in the fifth.
Dahlem paced the 17-hit Hamilton attack with two singles, a two-run home run, and three RBIs, while Caitlyn Atkins chipped in with two singles and a double, two runs, and an RBI.
"Katie Beth (Dahlem) and Lexus (Jordan), who bat eighth and ninth in the lineup, have really stepped up at the plate here lately," Earnest said.
Alison Atkins tossed an impressive four-hitter to earn the win, along with accolades from Earnest.
"She''s just an eighth-grader who has been starting since the second week of the season," Earnest said. "To be that young, Alison has done really well. She''s done a great job on the mound all year and she''s hit the ball pretty consistently, too."
In the two games combined, Alison Atkins, Caitlyn Atkins, Howell, Dahlem, Jordan, and Earnest all finished with four hits, one up on teammates Imel, Williams and Savage and two better than Willis.
Caitlyn Atkins paced the Lady Lions in the runs scored department with four, followed by Alison Atkins and Earnest with three, Imel, Jordan, and Hyland with two and Willis, Howell, Savage, Williams, and Dahlem with one each.
All 10 starters also picked up at least one RBI, led by Willis with four; Howell and Dahlem with three each; Caitlyn Atkins, Imel, Savage, Williams, and Jordan with two apiece; and Alison Atkins and Earnest with one.
"They say hitting is contagious and that has applied to us here lately," said assistant coach Jason Cobb. "It hasn''t mattered whether it''s our leadoff hitter or our No. 10 batter, we''ve had help up and down our lineup as everybody''s been smacking the ball around."
In addition to the triple play, defensive gems were also turned in by Emily Earnest and Lyndsey Williams.
So, once again, the Lady Lions are "going to the ''ship," a phrase first introduced in 2004 when 2-year-old Addie Cobb, the daughter of coaches Jason and Cory Cobb, picked up it up from the 2001 movie "Hardball" and then asked her mother if her softball team was "going to the ''ship.''
Hamilton''s North Half sweep earns the Lady Lions, winners of 11 straight, a date opposite Enterprise in Saturday''s Class 2A best-of-three state finals series at the VA Fields in Jackson. Opening ceremonies are scheduled for 10 a.m., with the first game set to start at 11 a.m. Game 2 will begin at 1 p.m. and Game 3, if needed, will start at 3 p.m.
Unfortunately for the long-ball Lady Lions, the games will be played on a men''s softball field without the benefit of a temporary fence.
"We played on the same field last year when we lost to Clarkdale and the big field hurt us a great deal," Earnest said. "We hit several that would have gone out of a girls park, but they either turned into doubles or long outs down there. That means this year we''ve got to get the ball down and hit line drives or what we''ve been used to being home runs will just turn into long fly balls."