April 12, 2009
Jessica Moore admits she had butterflies.
The sophomore outfielder arrived Saturday morning at Lady Trojan Field to discover teammate and starting right fielder Haley Tutor was suffering from an ulcer in her right eye and wouldn''t be able to play against Hernando.
Moore accepted the news with concern for her teammate and excitement that she would get a chance to play.
Two strikeouts in her first two at-bats didn''t do much to calm her butterflies.
But Moore responded like a seasoned veteran when it counted.
Moore''s single scored D.J. Sanders in the bottom of the sixth to help the New Hope High School fast-pitch softball team edge past Hernando 3-2 in game one of their Class 4A second-round playoff series.
Sanders (four RBIs) and Kelli Petty each had three hits in game two as New Hope earned a 9-2 victory to sweep the best-of-three series.
New Hope (22-2) will travel Wednesday to play Cleveland at 6 p.m. in game one of that best-of-three series. The second and if-necessary game will be at New Hope on Saturday.
Moore''s single on the first pitch she saw from Brooke Denton in the sixth helped New Hope breathe easier and gave everyone the confidence they needed to get 10 hits in game two.
"I am not used to that fast of a pitcher, so I was thinking what I had to do," said Moore, who choked up to the top of the grip on the bat. "I choked up that far just to see if I could get around faster, and I did."
Moore said New Hope coach Tabitha Beard told Moore to look for something to hit on the first pitch. Those words proved to be prophetic and Moore responded by lining a single to left.
"I had some confidence (I would get a hit in that situation), but I was kind of messed up from striking out the first two times," Moore said. "I took a deep breath and told myself I could do it, and I did it."
Moore didn''t get another hit Saturday, but she hit the ball hard in each of her three at-bats in game two.
Beard said the team talks every day about being ready because you never know when you might get an opportunity. She praised Moore for being ready to accept her challenge.
"Jessica is a really good outfielder and will have a great future with our team," Beard said. "She works real hard in practice and sometimes she gets frustrated. But today she really put all of that behind her and stepped up."
The change in Moore body language was just as evident in Sanders, a seventh-grader. The designated hitter doubled on an 0-2 pitch in the sixth inning in game one to set the stage for Moore.
In game two, she doubled, singled, and doubled and drove in four runs as the Lady Trojans looked more comfortable against the hard-throwing Denton.
"I think it was a little bit easier the second time because you knew what was coming and what to expect and how to handle the pitcher," Sanders said.
Sanders also struck out in her first two at-bats against Denton. In each of her first two at-bats she appeared to be close to making contact and hitting the sweet spot on the bat so she could find a gap or drive the ball over someone''s head.
Sanders'' groove carried over to the next game.
"It was like solving a code," Sanders said. "Once you accomplish it, it feels like you have done something big."
Petty added two triples, an RBI, and scored four runs from the No. 2 spot to spark the offense.
DeShuni Sanders and Victoria Culpepper (two hits, RBI) also scored two runs apiece, and Kristen Harvey had two RBIs.
Eighth-grader Lauren Holifield earned both victories. Like she did Monday in a doubleheader sweep of Lafayette County, Holifield regrouped after game one and was strong in the finale. She faced the minimum number of batters through five innings before a double by Kaleigh Tackitt and an infield error helped Hernando (20-10) score its runs in game two.
Holifield allowed another single in the seventh, but she, too, looked more confident in the circle, and Hernando wasn''t able to make contact as solidly as it did in game one.
"She did a lot better job in game two with her location," Beard said.
Hernando coach Rhonda Denton said her team didn''t hit the ball as well as it has at times this season. She said the lack of hitting might have contributed to two errors in game two that helped New Hope score four runs in the fourth and take an 8-0 lead.
"When you get a hit and an error in between and they score the runs it is hard to come back," Denton said. "I thought we had the momentum the first game. I thought we had a chance. We have played New Hope a lot of times in the playoffs in slow-pitch, but we felt confident in the first game. We really did."
New Hope, too, had that confidence throughout, even after Hernando scored two runs in the fourth inning of game one. Hernando appeared to gain momentum each half inning as it had better and better contact against Holifield, but the Lady Trojans used fine defense (a diving catch by Holley in foul territory and a throw from Moore in right field to first baseman Brandi Brantley that erased a runner) to hold their ground.
Fine defense has been a staple of New Hope''s slow-pitch teams, and it is just another ingredient that is helping the Lady Trojans this fast-pitch season.
"These girls just don''t know the meaning of quit," Beard said. "They know how to win, and they enjoy winning. They don''t ever worry about it. They just get the job done."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.