April 14, 2009
Kelli Petty doesn''t want any debate.
As much success as she and the New Hope High School softball program have on the diamond, the junior standout says track and field is her No. 1 sport.
Given Petty''s success this past week, it''s difficult to tell.
Petty won the 100 and 200 meters last Saturday at a track and field meet in Meridian. She also went 9-for-14 and helped the fast-pitch softball team earn a pair of series victories in the Class 4A state playoffs.
For her accomplishments, Petty is The Commercial Dispatch Prep Player of the Week.
On the track, Petty also was part of the 4x100-meter relay team with DeShuni Sanders, Kia Edmond, and Mysheal Standiford that finished second. She also was a member of the 4x200 team
The meet was the track and field team''s first of season, even though it has been practicing since February.
On the softball field, Petty had a four-hit game Monday in a series of Lafayette County. On Saturday, she had a three-hit game in a series sweep against Pontotoc.
All told, Petty had four RBIs, scored eight runs from the No. 2 spot in the order, had two triples, and played fine defense at shortstop in the four games to help New Hope advance to the third round Wednesday when it will face Cleveland.
Despite all of that success, Petty insists track and field is her first love.
"I just think I am better at it, and when you think you''re better at something you think you want to work harder at it," Petty said. "When I first started it, I fell in love with it. No questions asked, hands down. I don''t know what it is about track, but it is my favorite sport."
Petty and Sanders, who also is a member of the softball program, typically spend an hour and a half at track and field practice, usually only one day a week. But New Hope High doesn''t have a track, so its track and field athletes practice on the soccer field.
The lack of facilities doesn''t lend itself to simulating starts out of blocks, but Petty said she and her teammates make the best of what they have.
Petty has competed on the track and field team since the ninth grade. She has been involved with the softball program since seventh grade.
New Hope coach Tabitha Beard has watched Petty mature. Whether it is in the outfield in slow-pitch season or at shortstop in the fast-pitch season, she said Petty is a leader who sparks the team.
"Kelli is such an asset because of her speed," Beard said. "I have to keep reminding her that even when her hits aren''t as pretty she can run out a lot just on her speed. She has done a good job of hustling and making sure she runs as hard as she can every time she hits the ball."
Beard said Petty, who also plays girls basketball, has the potential to play softball in college. She said Petty''s speed and athletic ability would make her an attractive recruit for a softball coach.
"She can go as far as she wants," Beard said. "She has an opportunity, I know, and she has to make up her mind what she wants to do and do it."
But Petty has dreams of earning a college scholarship for track and field. She said she thinks "24-7" (all day every day of the week) about how good New Hope High''s track and field teams could be if they had the facilities. She said it is frustrating to want to train and to compete so badly and not have the means to do it.
"We could be No. 1 in the state," Petty said. "It is affecting our future because if we had a track we would have so much more practice and the college coaches could come and look at us. We could have track meets here and have scouts here. We could have so much better of a team."
Petty said she doesn''t get frustrated at track and field practice, and she said she doesn''t use softball as an outlet for what she can''t do or what the school can''t provide for its track and field athletes.
Instead, she just comes to softball practice and games and plays.
"We hit 24-7 and it pays off," Petty said. "At the beginning of the year I was a little shaky coming from basketball season, but I just got out here and practice paid off, and now I am hitting like I should be."
Petty said she thinks about what she could do if she concentrated on softball. She knows she might have to consider a softball scholarship if she is offered one, but she would prefer to follow her dream to compete in track and field.
Beard said Petty was a huge defensive stopper in left field in the slow-pitch season. She used her speed to track down hard-hit balls or line drives that would have went for extra bases.
In fast-pitch, Petty has worked her defensive magic in the infield, tracking balls deep into the hole.
At the plate, she terrorizes defenses with her ability to beat out routine infield plays. She also has the power to drive the ball into the gaps for extra-base hits.
"I think I get a lot of support (in softball)," Petty said. "That makes my drive at softball better."
n Heritage Academy takes fourth: At Greenwood, The Heritage Academy golf team placed fourth Monday at a match at Greenwood Country Club hosted by Pillow Academy.
Will Swedenburg and Cade Lott shots 79s, Bryce Rader shot an 80, Jase Dalrymple carded an 86, Hunter Brown shot an 89, and Will West fired a 100.
Pillow Academy shot a 301 to win the event. Magnolia Heights shot a 321, Pillow Academy''s B team carded a 323, Heritage Academy shot a 324, and Jackson Academy shot a 329.
Heritage Academy will play at 9 a.m. Thursday in Senatobia.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.