May 3, 2009
RIDGELAND -- The miracle rally turned out to be incomplete.
Three singles in the top of the seventh inning by the Hamilton High School fast-pitch softball team gave it hope.
Brooke Delaughter and her Loyd Star High teammates ended the Lady Lions'' dream with a bang-bang play.
Delaughter retired Caitlyn Atkins on a close play at first base to help preserve Loyd Star''s 3-2 victory in game two of the Mississippi High School Activities Association best-of-three Class 2A state championship series at Freedom Ridge State Park.
The victory gave Loyd Star (31-1-1) its first fast-pitch state crown.
Hamilton, which dropped a 10-5 decision Friday, ends its season at 15-12.
"We had a few opportunities early, but they''re a great team and they did a great job of battling through those situations and keeping us from turning it into a big inning," Hamilton coach Jason Cobb said. "I thought we had some of the same situations. We were able to get out of some of those situations to keep it close enough to have a chance."
Trailing 3-1 entering the top of the seventh, Anna Imel''s one-out single started Hamilton''s final rally.
With two outs, a bad-hop single by Katie Beth Dahlem skipped over the third baseman''s glove and gave the Lady Lions a runner in scoring position.
Sydney Sanders followed with a blooper that the shortstop went back on and the left fielder came in on. The players nearly collided as the ball deflected off the top of the shortstop''s glove, allowing Hamilton to cut the lead to 3-2.
But Delaughter, who earned the victory Friday night, got Caitlyn Atkins to ground to third base. The play at first base was close but not enough to keep the Lady Lions'' season alive.
Delaughter said Hamilton''s hitting ability forced her to hit her spots and to throw more changeups than she did Friday. She said she went to her out-pitch, an inside fastball, to get the final out.
"I knew I had to bear down because if I was in that situation I knew I would want to get a hit," Delaughter said. "I hit my spots and made it that the ball couldn''t go far so we could make the plays."
Loyd Star coach Jan Delaughter, who is Brooke''s mother, knew the Lady Hornets would be fine in the seventh if they stayed focused. She said Brooke''s control has helped her carry the load in a season whose only blemish was a loss to Northwest Rankin.
"I told my assistant coach at the beginning of the season that we have the girls who could win because they have played together for like five years," coach Delaughter said. "If they all focused on their jobs I knew we could do it."
Cobb credited his team for playing tough without junior pitcher Shelby Savage, who injured her hamstring in the seventh inning Friday. Savage dressed out but she walked with a limp.
Lyndsey Williams, a left-hander, played well at shortstop, as did Imel at third base behind pitcher Kelle West.
"I thought they did a great job," Cobb said. "We have had to battle injuries it seems like forever at Hamilton, but they played extremely hard. All of them played hard. It is hard to finish this way, but there is a lot to say about this group of girls and how they handled this season and the adversity we went through early."
West, a senior right-hander, kept Hamilton at 1-1 into the sixth inning before a blooper by Carrie Moak fell in front of shortstop Lyndsey Williams. A passed ball allowed Moak to go to third base, and she scored on a sacrifice fly by Karah Smith to make it 2-1.
Delaughter helped her cause with a one-out single in the top of the seventh that scored Emily Smith with what was considered an insurance run at the time.
Hamilton took a 1-0 lead in the first on a triple by Lexus Jordan and an RBI single by Williams.
The Lady Lions lose West, Sanders, and center fielder Miranda McCormick to graduation. Cobb credited each player for helping Hamilton solidify its reputation as one of the state''s top softball programs.
"Kelle has played the longest and started the longest in this program," Cobb said. "I can''t say enough about her and her attitude at practice and how she does things.
"Miranda had an awesome playoff run. Sydney missed the first 12 games or something with a bad ankle injury and emotionally helped boost the team when she returned. I can''t say enough about this group of seniors."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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