March 4, 2011 11:02:00 AM
There would be something wrong if D.J. Sanders didn''t smile when she was on the softball field.
Regardless of whether she is at shortstop or in the circle, the New Hope High School freshman plays the game with joy.
"I feel comfortable," Sanders said. "I am supposed to be having fun. I don''t know if I am having fun all of the time, but I am supposed to be."
In between striking out batters and snaring line drives, Sanders chats up teammates all over the field to make sure everyone is involved and having fun.
Sanders and the New Hope fast-pitch softball team enjoyed themselves Thursday night in a 10-0 victory against Caledonia. Sanders'' three-run single ended the game in the bottom of the sixth inning due to the mercy rule.
Sanders led the way with three hits, while Lauren Holifield (two RBIs) and Brandi Brantley each had two hits. Anna Holley, Kasey Stanfield, and Anna McCrary also had hits for the Lady Trojans, who capitalized on six errors.
Sanders, a lean right-hander, struck out six and walked two and showed her best velocity and location, according to New Hope coach Tabitha Beard.
"D.J. is a perfectionist," Beard said. "She wants it to work. We will call a riseball and it will drop and she will laugh and say, ''Re-do.'' I keep telling hr there are no mulligans in softball, but it makes it easy to coach her because she is enjoyable as a person."
Sanders is equally enjoyable when she is in the circle. While some pitchers have dour countenances or are silent when they pitch, Sanders smiles and talks all of the time, mostly with shortstop Lauren Holifield. The two swap positions when the other is in the circle.
"I might be even goofier when I am on the mound," Sanders said. "Lauren pitches better when she is mad. I pitch better when I am happy and everything is good."
Sanders also will talk with her outfielders if given the chance. On Thursday, Sanders noticed center fielder Anna McCrary was looking the other way at one point and she yelled out to McCrary, "Anna, are you OK?" McCrary gave Sanders a thumbs up, and she was right back to be a smiling menace in the circle.
Sanders grew accustomed to talking to her teammates when she played 12-and-under softball. Things are different now, though, because outfielders usually aren''t allowed to sit down or to chase butterflies, even if a pitcher has the potential to dominate like Sanders.
Beard has coached Sanders in slow- and fast-pitch and knows Sanders has a laid-back personality and is always smiling. She also realizes Sanders tends to doubt herself when she is in the circle and lets up on her pitches or overpitches.
That wasn''t the case against Caledonia.
"I told her that was the best I have seen her throw this year because (the umpire) called a couple of balls you didn''t like and you rared back and fired it," Beard said. "She is going to smile regardless, but sometimes it is good for D.J. to understand she just has to relax and throw."
Sanders gave a tougher assessment, even though you wouldn''t have known her feelings from the smile on her face.
"I really could have done better, but I guess it was OK," Sanders said.
Beard had the same attitude about her team''s hitting. Holifield, the leadoff hitter, and Brantley, the No. 9 hitter, showed the ability to get things started at the top and the end of the order. In between, Sanders and Stanfield can drive the ball, while Holley is a solid situational hitter and Bradley has the potential to be a speed demon if she masters the small-ball approach.
Still, Beard wasn''t happy the Lady Trojans (4-1) struck out six times and was passive on too many at-bats.
"We need to get the slow pitch out of our swing," Beard said. "We have really big hands. We can get away with that against slower pitchers, but some things we work on in practice or in the heat of the moment they forget to do or don''t do.
"I was really proud of Brandi. She has worked on it and she has gotten a lot better at it. I feel like the ones who stayed in front of the box and stayed ahead of her rise did really well."
Blaire Ruth''s single to left field was the only hit for Caledonia (1-3). Third baseman Kaitlin Bradley made a fine play just before that hit, barehanding a slow roller up the third-base line and throwing to Brantley at first base to retire Taylor Renth. Renth also lined out to left in the third.
Caledonia coach Robin Elmore said her team needs to have the confidence it can deliver at the plate and it can make the plays in the field.
"We have to get to the point of not hoping we win, we have to get to the point we know we are going to win when we walk onto the field," Elmore said. "We are still looking at certain positions, and they are still up for grabs."
Caledonia scored only two runs in dropping two games last weekend at the Hamilton High tournament. It rebounded to score 15 runs in a win Tuesday against Starkville. Elmore said the Lady Confederates had some quality at-bats Thursday, but she said more repetitions in practice will help her players improve.
"They have to get back into the cages and go to work," Elmore said. "It wouldn''t matter what we did if we don''t put the ball into play and get some hits. We have been in situations so many times where we have a chance to get out of an inning and they plunk a hit in. We have been in the same situation and we don''t get a hit. We have to take advantage of the opportunities and we didn''t. Until we get to the point where we can take advantage of situations we''re going to struggle with that. But I believe in them."
Cara Hopper pitched five-plus innings for the Lady Confederates. She allowed nine hits before giving way to Ruth, who allowed Sanders'' hit.
New Hope will play host to Madison Central at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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