October 9, 2009 9:18:00 AM
Brandi Brantley knows she doesn''t hit the middle of the softball every at-bat.
But the junior first baseman/pitcher has come a long way since last season when she only played defense on the New Hope High School slow-pitch softball team''s run to another state title.
This year, Brantley has hit her way into the lineup -- as cleanup hitter -- and hopes to help the Lady Trojans add a 12th state crown to their resume.
On Thursday, Brantley had two doubles and five RBIs to help New Hope sweep Forest Hill 16-1 and 19-0 in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North Half State tournament.
New Hope (16-7), which won the Class 4A state titles in 2007 and in ''08, will travel to Ridgeland on Saturday for a best-of-three series. The times of the games weren''t available at press time.
The Lady Trojans were never challenged Thursday, winning both games in three innings. They used seven hits and 13 walks in game one and a 19-run, 15-hit second inning to advance.
New Hope had 13 consecutive batters reach in the second inning.
Brantley was one of them. Her two-run double helped her shake off the long flyball out she made to left-center field in the first inning. She said she is seeing the ball better, which is helping her to drive it.
"My goal is to get one hit a game," Brantley said. "I am just trying to help the team and get a hit or to help the team try to score a run."
Brantley said she remembers New Hope High coach Tabitha Beard saying the team needed each layer to get at least one hit a game to spark the offense. Beard made that comment earlier in the season when the Lady Trojans were struggling to score runs. They haven''t become a consistent offensive juggernaut, but Brantley hopes she can be a run producer in the middle of the lineup to keep rallies going.
"I am trying to see the middle of the ball and figure out what I am doing when I pop it up," Brantley said. "
Brantley also had a three-run double in the first game. Popups to the pitcher and to the shortstop sandwiched the hit. Brantley swung at an inside pitch on the popup to the shortstop and reached on her swing on the popup to the pitcher.
Outs like that were hard to avoid Thursday because pitcher Ya''Kedia Millender was inconsistent throwing strikes.
Still, Beard said Brantley is doing a better job at the plate. She said avoiding bad habits at the plate was difficult Thursday, and broke out every phrase she could think of -- "It''s got to be perfect," "Take a deep breath," "Make sure it''s a good pitch," "Make her pitch to you," and others to try to keep the Lady Trojans focused.
"There are different things for different girls," Beard said. "We can''t have popups. We eliminated some of the errors in the second game, and we looked a lot better defensively."
Brantley hopes New Hope can build on its momentum this weekend and make a push to win state title No. 12.
"I know we have the ability to go out there and to play and hit and play defense like we can," Brantley said. "We have the ability to make it back to state. We still have pretty good players here.
"We have to work as a team. We have to be serious about what we''re doing and work together. Our goal has to be the same, and we have to be on the same page to make it there. If that is what everybody wants, I think we will be fine."
Ashley Boyle, Taylor Brown (two hits), Anna McCrary, and Jordan Johnson had RBI singles in game one. Kayla Scarborough also had a sacrifice fly.
D.J. Sanders (two hits, three RBIs) had a two-run single, McCrary (three RBIs) had a double and an RBI, and Anna Hodson, Rachel Rhoades, Lauren Holifield, Jessica Moore, Empress Shirley, and Kasey Stanfield, and Scarborough (two RBIs) had RBI singles in game two.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.