April 22, 2009
HAMILTON -- One bad game was all the Hamilton High School fast-pitch softball team needed.
A missed opportunity, an error, or a pitch in the wrong spot could have have ended the Lady Lions'' season too soon.
But faced with the prospect of turning in their jerseys for the final time, Hamilton responded and appears to have rediscovered its rhythm.
Hamilton (13-10) will try to keep its run going Thursday when it travels to Hatley for game one in the best-of-three series that will determine the Class 2A North Half state champion.
The state final has been on the minds of the Lady Lions ever since last season when they lost the last two games of a best-of-three set to Eupora in the North Half state title series.
Hamilton earned a measure of revenge Saturday, beating Eupora 9-7 to sweep the best-of-three series.
This season, the Lady Lions don''t want their run to end in the same spot as last year.
"I was pretty confident in our team," infielder/pitcher Kelle West said. "I didn''t think we would go home. The confidence comes from coming together as a team and meshing well."
West was referring to game three of Hamilton''s second-round series against Baldwyn. The Lady Lions had received a first-round bye and were coming off a nearly two-week layoff when they beat Baldwyn in game one and then lost game two.
Coach Jason Cobb said the layoff came at the wrong time because his team appeared to be coming together after facing a schedule packed with strong programs from higher classification schools.
Hamilton responded, though, banging out 20 runs to eliminate Baldwyn. The Lady Lions then added 19 more runs in the sweep of Eupora to set the stage for their series against Monroe County rival Hatley. The teams split two games in the regular season.
"I think it is the mind-set of the kids," Cobb said of what helped the Lady Lions bounce back so quickly. "I think they made up their minds that they weren''t done playing. I don''t think it is a lot I did or anybody did. Their mind-set changed. They focus more at practice and they focus more in games. We''re not making some of the mistakes we made early in the season, and a lot of that is growing."
Cobb believes the team''s biggest problem at the start of the season was it had everyone back from last season. He said the experience led to overconfidence because the Lady Lions felt they could show up and get results.
When that proved not to be the case, he said the players responded.
"Somewhere they realized we''re still going to have to work our tails off and we''re still going to have to do the little things to make it happen," Cobb said. "In the beginning of the season we didn''t bunt well, we didn''t move runners, we didn''t score with two outs, and we couldn''t get hits. Now we''re able to lay down a bunt anytime we want to, it seems like, and we''re scoring those runs with two outs. I have always told them the difference between a good team and a great team is how many runs you can score with two outs."
Cobb also said the Lady Lions have gotten away from the negative thoughts they had going into the batter''s box earlier in the season.
Pitcher Shelby Savage, who relieved West against Eupora on Saturday, also said she was confident Hamilton would come together. She said the team''s record might not look impressive, but that the team has learned from its mistakes and knows what it has to do to earn a shot to play for a state title.
"We just knew everybody had to hit and do their part," Savage said. "It took everybody as a team to do it. We all put in equally and we congratulate each other and stay together.
"We didn''t start our very good in the beginning of the year, but we got back in and found out we had to play and put out our best."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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