October 20, 2009 11:18:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
There''s only one thing better than winning a North State championship.
The Hamilton and New Hope High School slow-pitch softball teams experienced that feeling Saturday at the V.A. Fields in Jackson when they won the Class 2A and Class 5A championships, respectively.
A series sweep of Enterprise gave Hamilton its first slow-pitch title since 2004, while New Hope''s sweep of Brookhaven was its third consecutive title (first in Class 5A) and 12th in the program''s history.
Both teams took similar roads to its championships.
Hamilton struggled in the first half of the season to find its comfort zone at the plate. The Lady Lions had plenty of experience back from the 2008 team that lost to Clarkdale in the Class 2A championship series, but, for whatever reason, the 2009 team didn''t click until the second half of the season.
When it did, it became an offensive juggernaut. The Lady Lions smacked eight home runs in a series sweep against East Union in the North State semifinals. They then pounded out 35 hits in a series sweep of Baldwyn to win another North State crown.
Chauncia Willis and Hannah Howell, who both could be cleanup hitters, were two of the driving forces in the lineup. Willis, a right-handed hitter, can smack the ball a country mile. Howell, a sweet-swinging left-hander, can pound the ball just as far.
But Hamilton didn''t win a title with just two big bats. The home runs weren''t as plentiful Saturday on a field with a 300-foot fence, but the Lady Lions adjusted and hit lasers all over the field. Their biggest weapon was a line drive, and it didn''t matter if the Enterprise outfielders appeared to be playing deep enough to protect against a ball over their heads.
Hamilton either hit in front of them, over them, or in between them. The Lady Lions played with a killer instinct that coach Lewis Earnest didn''t know existed in the first half of the season.
New Hope also had its share of kinks to work out in the first half of the season. The Lady Trojans struggled to generate a consistent offense early in the season without three key members of the 2008 Class 4A state title team. Things didn''t get any easier once the season started when they learned they would have to replace another senior who left the team in the first part of the year.
But, like Hamilton, tradition-rich programs seemingly have a knack for knowing when to make things happen. New Hope survived the changing lineups and offensive doldrums and continued to play stellar defense. That defense earned a gold star Friday in a series sweep against Neshoba Central that gave the Lady Trojans another North State title.
Lauren Holifield and Brandi Brantley teamed for a double play in the third inning of game one against the Lady Rockets. Right fielder Anna McCrary then made two plays in the seventh inning that helped put an exclamation point on the victory. Undeterred by a soggy turf, she dove into the right-center field gap to make a stelar catch. She followed that up by making a leaping catch at the wall to take away a double or triple to end the game.
McCrary added another fine running catch in the fifth inning of game two. The Lady Trojan outfielders also used strong throws to erase runners at home and at third base to snuff out potential runs.
The defensive gems continued Saturday. New Hope made play after play after play and prevented Brookhaven from building any momentum. The Lady Trojans made all of the plays that might have turned into "could have beens" and used a hitting attack that fired back up after a 50-minute delay in between games to win its third title in as many years.
The performance earned New Hope coach Tabitha Beard another celebratory cooler dousing, one she probably didn''t expect on a blustery day, but one that was deserved from a team that rose to the challenge and delivered.
Both teams waited a while to show their all-around games. When they did, only one word could be used to describe their efforts: Awesome.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Commercial Dispatch. Contact him at: [email protected]
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.