March 29, 2014 11:24:06 PM
Tabitha Beard isn't going to make excuses.
For years, defense has been the foundation for the New Hope High School softball program. Whether it has been slow- or fast-pitch, the Lady Trojans have relied on their defensive execution to give them an advantage against opponents.
With only five seniors and one junior on the 26-player roster, Beard won't allow youth or inexperience to affect New Hope's defense. She emphasized that point Friday afternoon after New Hope committed six errors in a 14-3 loss to Naples (Fla.) at Lady Trojan Field.
"Until today, we never had the issues I saw today," Beard said. "This is what I told them. We pride ourselves on being a great defensive team. If they would have brought Jackie Traina in here throwing 70 (mph) and we couldn't hit anything, what they should have been able to say to us at the end of the day was they play great defense. Today we didn't have that. They put D.J. in a real bad position when they do that. They can't do that, and that's what we're going to have to focus on.
"We have to be the defensive stronghold when she gives up a few hits, we are there to back her up. We have never been that team that we have a great pitcher and that is all we have got. That is not how we have worked. We have always been we play great defense, we do things right. Today wasn't that. I don't know if it was intimidation by the name. I don't know. I hope that is all that it was, but I felt like we were a step behind on everything we did defensively, and we have to work on it."
Naples (12-2), a perennial playoff team in Class 6A in the state of Florida, was in the area to watch Naples High graduate Jaclyn Traina and the Alabama softball team play LSU in a Southeastern Conference series in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Naples, which has 12 state titles, lost in the regional final last season, fell to Dunnellon in the Class 4A state title game in 2010, and won the Class 4A state crown in 2008. On Friday, it touched starting pitcher D.J. Sanders for 17 hits, including 10 in the final three innings. It used a six-run fifth inning in which it had six hits in a row to break the game open.
"Their pitcher did a great job," Naples coach Robert Iamurri said. "What we really need to work on, they're exceptionally fast. They put the bat on the ball and they didn't quit. We were fortunate. I have got a good senior pitcher. You will get two or three hits, but she won't collapse at the end and we will play pretty good ball behind her. They just couldn't string a lot together, and it is pretty tough on her to do that."
Iamurri said he didn't know much about softball in the state of Mississippi, but he said New Hope's success in the sport, as evidenced by its array of state championship signs on the outfield wall, caught his players' attention and helped raise their level of play. He praised New Hope's speed and felt the Lady Trojans were comparable to his team and could compete with a lot of the teams in the state of Florida, which has eight classifications. Mississippi has only six. New Hope is in Class 5A.
"I think the pitcher is a great athlete," Iamurri said. "The one thing about our team is we are a real, real good hitting team. We are not as good defensively as we used to be, but we have hitters coming off the bench that can hi the ball. I think they will stack up. With their type of speed and defense, I think they would hold up against most of the schools."
New Hope had only eight hits against senior right-hander Haley Pinterich. The Lady Trojans compounded their offensive troubles with a variety of throwing and fielding miscues in addition to a lack of hustle that irritated Beard. Still, Beard tried to remain positive through the course of the game, shouting "keep fighting" and encouraging the players to "do the things we do -- diving and hustling" to find a spark. After the game, though, Beard couldn't help highlight the Lady Trojans' inability to hit cutoff players, to block balls, or to dive for balls.
"That is very frustrating," Beard said. "I am trying to stay on the positive side of everything, but stuff like that is hard for a coach to swallow. You look at it as you can't coach heart. It is something you have or you don't. Today, I don't think we showed a lot of that. ... We literally looked like we were scared to death and about two steps behind everything we did. We can't do that and play this game."
Beard reiterated youth isn't an excuse by saying she saw several of the team's more experienced players not do the things the program has prided itself on. With a busy week of games set to begin Monday at Winfield, Ala., and Tuesday at Columbus, Beard knows New Hope (6-3-1) needs to put the game behind it and get back to playing how it is capable of playing if it intends to stay alive deep into the postseason.
"This is the first time I have seen this," Beard said. "I don't know where this came from. I don't know if it was the excitement, the middle of the day, or the change. With teenage girls you never know. I hate that it happened. I don't feel like we represented ourselves in the way that we should have against a team we will never see again. That is not the impression I ever want to leave on a team about our program. That is more upsetting than anything."
Sanders had two hits, while Megan James and Kelsey Gerhart had a single and an RBI.
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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