August 23, 2012 1:07:45 PM
ABERDEEN -- Two Columbus High School punt returns and a lackluster effort on the offensive front that led to seven turnovers and a blocked punt played key roles in the Aberdeen High School football team's season-opening 21-0 loss last week.
As expected, improving the offensive line play and the special team's punt coverage drew the attention of first-year coach Mark Bray this week as Aberdeen prepares for its visit to Shannon High's infamous "Pit."
"We played about 18 or 19 players and we just ran out of gas," Bray said. "Columbus' defensive front dominated our offensive line and our defensive front dominated theirs. It was a defensive struggle for both teams, and they just made the big pays where we didn't."
Bray said the squad watched the game tapes and it was evident to all there were two different teams on the field.
"The defense played great," Bray said, "particularly Devonta Walker, Deonta Carter, Jahrel Wilson and Theo Boyd, along with Justin Lucas and Zay Forshee. They stuffed Columbus all night."
Unfortunately, the Falcons' defensive front did the same to the Bulldogs' offensive line, a unit that was expected to be a strength this season.
"While the defensive team played with great effort all night, it was just the opposite for the offensive line and the special teams, punt coverage in particular," Bray said. "We'd make a big play and then lose 5 or 6 yards or fumble or throw an interception. It just did us in."
Bray said Class 4A Shannon almost is a mirror image of Aberdeen.
"They're very athletic, they run the spread offense, and they do a lot of the same stuff we do," he said. "If we expect to come home with a win, we're going to have to have a better effort from the offense and the special teams."
Aberdeen softball looks to improve
A lack of offensive production necessitated an emphasis on batting practice, as Aberdeen coach Joyce Lucas looked for ways to improve her winless Lady Bulldogs' slow-pitch softball record.
"We've been in the batting cage all week," Lucas said. "We've got 'em hitting off the pitching machine, off live pitching utilizing a variety of different pitches, and off the tee. I want them to feel comfortable in the batting box and get the needed confidence to get the job done."
The Lady Bulldogs opened the season with a 27-5 loss to Amory and a 9-1 setback to Bruce in the Amory Pre-Season Classic. They lost at Mantachie 22-0 to fall to 0-3.
Aberdeen will play host to Mantachie at 5 p.m. today.
Seniors Teinisha Williams, Khadesha Polk, Cyntyla McAllister, and Shaunice Moore and juniors Shilo Jones and Yasmin Curry lead the Lady Bulldogs.
Williams, the team's left fielder, had a two-run double against Amory. She also pulled off a rare trick by accounting for all three outs in the first inning.
Grant in first year leading Aberdeen volleyball
Under the direction of first-year coach Candy Grant, the Aberdeen High volleyball team will look to snap a two-match losing streak this week when Ripley and Caledonia come calling.
The Lady Bulldogs opened regular season play with a 3-2 win against Amory and followed that up with 3-0 losses to Starkville High and Heritage Academy.
"Our team plays with a lot of heart," said Grant, a breast cancer survivor. "We've got a great group of girls to work with, and I'm just as excited as I can be to have been asked to be their coach."
Grant, who is assisted by Virgie Buckingham and student-coach Lindsey Griffin, has only one senior -- Cori Walker -- on the squad.
"She has a great attitude," Grant said of Walker.
Two juniors, three sophomores, and a freshman split time as starters.
"Ginnerfer Young and Jamie Strong are both juniors, while Rachel Boone, Kaliya Smith and Santianna Rogers-McMillian are sophomores and Jakayla Dancy is the freshman," Grant said.
Grant said Young is the team's best setter, Strong is the squad's best spiker, Boone is an all-around player with an awesome attitude, Smith is a power hitter, Rogers-McMillian is the team's most consistent server, and Dancy is a power hitter and power server who plays all over the court.
"The girls work hard and they don't know the meaning of the word 'quit,' " Grant said.
Football team gears up to play Houlka
Hamilton High football coach Ray Weeks predicted his team's season opener against Smithville would boil down to three or four key plays, and that's what happened in a 21-12 loss last Friday.
"They (Smithville) made the plays, we didn't, and we played about as sloppy a game as any we've played since I've been here," Weeks said. "We had a first-and-goal at their 5-yard line and couldn't punch it in, and then a first-and-10 at the 12, but a fumbled snap and a quarterback sack killed that drive.
"We had three busted coverages that hurt, and if we had played better in the first half, we could have been up by three scores at the half instead of just 6-0," he said. "But don't take anything away from Smithville. They played a lot better than we did. They played steady throughout the game and they played hard, so no one can say they didn't deserve to win."
Hamilton will play Houlka tonight at Okolona. Hamilton beat Houlka 36-8 last season.
"Houlka has good size up front, good athletes at the skill positions, and they are as talented as some of the teams we play," Weeks said. "I saw them at the ICC camp this summer and was very impressed. We got to play better than we did last week, and if we don't pull our heads out of the sand we could be in trouble."
Despite the disappointing loss, Weeks said Deion Howard and Silas Gill stood out on the offense and defense, respectively.
"Deion played a great game," said Weeks. "He had some great runs and two great catches -- one for a touchdown, while Gill had a great night and made a bunch of tackles from his middle linebacker spot. But that's what you expect out of your seniors."
Hamilton's kicking game received a boost this week with the arrival of soccer player Martin Hoelscher, from Germany, and Gorka Garcia, from Spain.
"Martin is the real deal," Weeks said. "He's never kicked a football before, but he drilled his extra points in practice the other day and looks like he has good accuracy in the 25- to 30-yard range. He'll definitely help in this aspect of the game."
Garcia doesn't play soccer, but he probably will suit up as a wide receiver and/or a defensive back once he gains experience.
"Gorka plays basketball, but we're hoping he can help us some in football, too," Weeks said.
Softball team will try to start winning streak
Despite losing only two seniors off last year's squad, it has been a win one-lose one proposition for Hamilton's slow-pitch softball team six games into the season.
Hamilton lost to defending Class 3A state champion Nettleton 11-7 to start the year and then defeated Class 4A Caledonia 8-0 at the Hamilton Classic.
Since then, Hamilton has defeated Caledonia 8-0, lost to Mooreville 5-4 and Nettleton 9-1, and trounced Okolona 26-1 to even its record at 3-3.
The Lady Lions sport a relatively young team grade-wise, as coach Lewis Earnest has but two seniors -- first cousins Mary Willis (catcher) and first baseman Christy Willis (first baseman). They are starting for the third year.
Rounding out the returnees are juniors Alison Atkins (pitcher), Taylor Hyland (shortstop), Cheyenne Logan (right-center field) and Raimi Bryan (left fielder), and sophomores Addie Thompson (second base) and Jordyn Jackson (right field).
Myiah Dobbs mans the left-center field spot, while freshmen Hope Manasco and Hailee Jones and Jackson are filling the void at third base left by the graduation of Lexus Jordan.
Mary Willis leads the team in batting with a .583 average (7-for-14), followed by Jackson at .500, Logan at .417 (5-for-12), Hyland at .364 (4-for-11), Atkins at .357 (5-for-14), Thompson at .353 (6-for-17), and Bryan and Dobbs at .333 (4-for-12).
Sophomore Hallie Dobbs has three hits in three at-bats in one start and in a pinch-hitting role.
"The averages look good on paper, but we're struggling at the plate," Earnest said. "Defensively, we're strong like we usually are, but we need to improve on our hitting."