April 30, 2010 11:05:00 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Empress Shirley was tempted.
Even though she had practiced and played softball for years, there was a voice inside Shirley''s head that told her it might be a good idea to quit the New Hope High School softball program.
After all, Shirley would have more time to spend with some of her friends. She also would have more time to find a job or simply hang out and relax and enjoy her senior year.
The Lady Trojans are glad Shirley didn''t give in to temptation.
"I understood I really needed to step up my game more than I was," Shirley said. "We have a lot of competition out here. Starting in slow-pitch season, I said I was really going to step it up because it is what I needed to do. (In fast-pitch season), I realized they need me as much as I need them. If I would have quit, it would have hurt me more than it helped me. I would have regretted it."
Now, the senior designated player is having a final season to remember as one of the team''s hitting leaders. She and the rest of her teammates will take the first step at 1 p.m. today on what they hope is another championship journey when they play host to Clarksdale in a doubleheader in the opening round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A playoffs.
New Hope (20-5) has used solid hitting, strong pitching, and tough defense -- the same traits that helped it win a slow-pitch title in the fall -- to move into position to make a title run.
Shirley said she had to change her attitude to secure a position on a team where underclassmen -- sometimes middle schoolers -- push upperclassmen for playing time.
Shirley, the team''s only senior, has provided leadership and timely hitting in a lineup that doesn''t feature a lot of power but has plenty of players who can drive the ball into the alleys.
"I had to get serious about what I wanted to do," Shirley said. "When I did that, it all fell into place because I found myself working harder and wanting it more than I did at first. I was in the batting cage every day, hours at a time, hitting constantly."
When the Lady Trojans get rolling, listen to the team''s dugout because it will help keep the momentum going.
Like many softball teams, the Lady Trojans are apt to break out into song or a chorus of cheers. For Shirley, the chant is contagious.
"The girls are always like, ''Empress, you are beastin out there,'' " Shirley said. "We have a cheer that is called ''Beast Mode,'' and everybody wants that cheer sung when they hit."
Shirley said she looks up to many of her teammates like they look up to her. She said all of the players support each other, so much so that they have no problem breaking out in "Beast Mode" to help start a rally.
"It starts out with Beast Mode a couple of times and it goes low," Shirley said. "Then it goes, ''Empress hit the mother lode. Beast Mode, Beast Mode, Empress hit the mother lode. It is really neat. It is catchy. ... I just love this team. I couldn''t see myself without playing."
New Hope coach Tabitha Beard said she has enjoyed watching Shirley come into her own this season. Shirley was a role player in the slow-pitch season, but Beard said Shirley has accepted the challenge in the fast-pitch season and has been a bigger contributor.
"I think Empress was really determined to play this year and to do whatever she had to do to help the team," Beard said. "She worked really hard on her own at practice. She came out at the beginning of the year in practice that she could hit the ball, and that she could hit it well."
Beard said Shirley is in the top five on the team in batting average. She said Shirley always enthusiastic and positive and keeps her teammates excited in the dugout. Those intangibles have been essential ingredients to the team''s success this year, and Beard is more than happy that Shirley decided to remain with the team and take on a bigger leadership role.
"Empress had every reason not to come back," Beard said. "With people quitting around her and other seniors begging her to quit with them, Empress had every reason to say I am not going to do this anymore. She chose to work harder and to get better, and it has shown. I think a lot of it is her attitude for the younger girls to see, even when things get rough you have to stay positive and you have to stay focused.
"When we''re in a situation where we have to have a hit, she is one of the players you want to have at the plate, and it helps."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.