September 12, 2009 11:40:00 PM
The New Hope High School slow-pitch softball team remains a work in progress.
But if the Lady Trojans play defense like they did Saturday afternoon, they just might get another opportunity to play for another state title.
Even with only three players getting more than one hit on the day, New Hope still earned 1-0 and 5-2 victories against Quitman in a doubleheader at Lady Trojan Field.
"Our hitting might not be the best, but today was probably the best we have played on defense," New Hope High coach Tabitha Beard said. "That''s what we have to have if we''re not going to hit the ball real well. I am proud of them for that, but we still have to hit the ball."
The victories helped New Hope improve to 8-5 with home games Monday and Tuesday against Northeast Lauderdale and Grenada (doubleheader), respectively.
Beard said the Lady Trojans, who have had to replace four key players from last season''s team that won the Class 4A title, are coming along "slowly" at the plate.
Quitman coach Kacie Luebbers said the Lady Panthers have been fighting the same kind of inconsistency at the plate.
Earlier this week, Quitman pounded out 20 and 15 hits in victories.
On Saturday, though, seven of its hits in game one were singles (the other was a double). In game two, the Lady Panthers scratched out two hits in the first six innings against Morgan Hardin before scoring two runs on three hits in the top of the seventh.
"I don''t understand," said Luebbers, whose team lost to New Hope in game three of the best-of-three series last season in the Class 4A championship. "There is no reason we shouldn''t have at least 10 hits or more every game."
Luebbers said the Lady Panthers (8-4) had been hitting the ball up to their potential. On Saturday, some of the players tried to adjust their feet while the pitch was in the air or to close their stance to help them hit the ball into the gap.
Unfortunately, a New Hope player was either there to make a play or the batter popped the ball up.
"We had a lot of girls think they have more power than they really do instead of just base-hitting the ball and hitting gaps," Luebbers said. "We just tried to more than we were capable of."
New Hope''s defense had something to do with Quitman''s struggles. The Lady Trojans committed only one error in the doubleheader, turned two double plays in the first game, and retired five baserunners trying to advance to the next base on apparent hits to the outfield that turned into fielder''s choices.
Junior left fielder Haley Tutor had one of the finer plays of the afternoon when she ranged back almost to the wall to make a running catch on shortstop Stormy Lewis.
One batter earlier, Tutor couldn''t come in fast enough on a blooper by Ashley Downing that went for a hit.
"Growing up, you know New Hope is defense," Tutor said. "You know you have to keep that up, and we''re good at defense. We practice it every day and we know how to do it. I am proud of the people who have stepped up their game and they can do it."
New Hope lost third baseman Kristen Harvey and outfielders Victoria Culpepper and DeShuni Sanders to graduation. Senior shortstop Kelli Petty started the season with the team but is no longer on the squad.
Tutor''s play was even more impressive considering she got hit in the face Thursday with a thrown ball in a 13-0 victory against West Point.
The ball knocked loose several teeth in Tutor''s mouth, and she said she had to go to the dentist to get a clear brace to wear to help protect her loose tooth.
Her lip was still swollen and with stitches and her mouth was still sore Saturday, so she wasn''t sure she would be able to play until she participated in warmups.
"I was so scared that I would be running and it would go up and down because I have the stitches, and they really hurt," Tutor said. "Coach Beard hit me some balls and I realized I would be fine."
Tutor also was a part of New Hope''s "uprising" in game two that helped it score just enough runs to stand up.
Kayla Scarborough opened the bottom of the third inning with a single to right field. Jessica Moore, who had two hits and scored the only run in game one, followed with a drive to right field. Angel Johnson fielded the ball and threw to second base, but Lewis couldn''t handle the throw to put runners on second and first.
Tutor followed with a double that scooted just inside the first-base line and scored the first run. Anna McCrary had her second sacrifice fly of the day to make it 2-0, and Ashley Boyle followed with another sacrifice fly to push it to 3-0.
"We''re getting better, and we''re practicing more on hitting because I think our defense is really good now," Tutor said. "More people are starting to hit and come together, and we''re putting hits together."
Tutor and her teammates have said earlier this season that hitting is contagious. She said she realized she needed to hit behind the runner to make it easier on the baserunners.
Beard said the three consecutive hits to the right side in the third was the first time the Lady Trojans have done that this season.
"We''re getting better," Beard said. "It is a slow process, but, like I said, we have played the best team in the state. We had a slow start, but we''re being more consistent at the plate."
The Lady Trojans tacked on two more runs in the fifth. Tutor walked, went to second on a single by Lauren Holifield, and to third on a single by Boyle. She raced home when the left fielder didn''t come up cleanly with the ball.
Taylor Brown''s sacrifice fly accounted for New Hope''s scoring.
Tutor said she and her teammates believe they can do even better. She referred back to a 14-6 victory earlier in the season against Quitman. The Lady Trojans scored 10 runs in the first inning in that game, and Tutor said that outburst showed everyone they can be a good hitting team.
Holifield and Hardin were the other Lady Trojans with multiple hits.
Beard praised the efforts of Hardin, a senior transfer from Heritage Academy. She said Hardin has emerged as a team leader who has provided stability in the circle.
Beard said the Lady Trojans will continue to play strong defense and if their hitting stays where it is they will do their best to make a run at a Class 5A state title.
"I think they can do whatever they set their mind to," Beard said. "I know these girls have the talent to do it, and the potential is there. We have a lot of new faces on the team and it takes a while to get the players to jell. They have the potential, but it is all up to them how far they want to go and how hard are they going to work. They have the best attitudes of any team I have coached."
Against West Point, Sanders had a two-run triple in the first and McCrary and Boyle had RBI singles. Brandi Brantley added a sacrifice RBI.
Sanders and Brantley had two-run singles in the third, while Moore added an RBI single.
Boyle and Sanders had RBIs in the fourth.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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