July 30, 2014 11:56:54 AM
STARKVILLE -- For Winston Academy softball players, peace and harmony came when it was finally time to play a game.
After a couple of difficult weeks of practice, Winston Academy earned a 15-11 victory against Starkville Academy Tuesday afternoon.
"We thought we were going to do bad today because we had really been fighting a lot in practice," Winston Academy senior catcher Kaitlyn Jones. "I guess game time was different. Everybody wanted to win so there was togetherness. That was the biggest difference. We really played like a team for the first time since practice started."
The game won't make either team's highlight reel. They combined to issue 13 walks, hit five batters, and commit 11 errors.
Still, Starkville Academy coach Kayla Mosley saw improvement from her squad, which was playing less than 24 hours after dropping a 22-5 decision at Central Academy.
"I try to give them constructive criticism, but I want them to know the things they are doing better on," Mosley said. "After (Monday's) game all I could tell them was you have to compete every play and you have to want to win over every play. They took a little bit of that into (Tuesday's) game."
Winston Academy touched pitcher Karlie Lockhart for a 7-0 lead. The Patriots scored three times in the first inning and four times in the second with only the benefit of one hit. Lockhart walked in a run, hit another batter with the bases loaded, and fell victim to an infield error with the bases loaded.
"Throughout all of our practices, we have preached about taking what the other team gives us," Winston Academy first-year coach Gregg Collier said. "We bent ourselves a little bit, but overall I thought we did a great job of putting the pressure on them and taking advantage of our scoring opportunities."
Winston Academy third baseman Brooke Watson laced a two-run single for her squad's first hit and a 7-0 lead.
Starkville Academy (1-2) battled back. The hosts were back within 8-6 in the fourth when Lockhart aided her cause by smoking a two-run single to the outfield gap. With two runners still on a base, a snag of a line drive by second baseman Alexa Johnson erased the threat.
"They competed," Mosley said. "They came back from a big deficit and really competed hard the whole game."
Things unraveled in a prolonged fifth inning, which eclipsed the time limit.
Winston Academy bunched run-producing hits by Lainey Smith, Watson, and Emily Morgan and capitalized on three Starkville Academy errors, three walks, a hit batsman, and two wild pitches to score seven runs.
"We have to quit giving the other team stuff," Mosley said. "We have to quit putting them on base. When they do get there, we have to quit making mistakes behind our pitcher. We have to clean it up. Everything looks like a work in progress and not a well-oiled machine like we need to be."
Starkville Academy responded with five runs in the home half of the inning. Ninth-place hitter Hailey Nason had a two-run triple. Adrienne Futral and Sarah Morgan Pellum followed with hits to help the Lady Volunteers score all five runs with two outs.
"We really didn't know what to expect because everybody thought we were going to get beat," Jones said. "We have pretty much approached this season as being underdogs. We want to surprise people every time we win."
Collier has much higher expectations than that. Even though the Lady Patriots lost five seniors from last year's squad, he feels his first club has a talented quartet of seniors. The group includes center fielder Lainey Smith, shortstop Darby Nowell, pitcher Marla Smith, and Jones, whom Collier calls the best catcher in the state.
"For the first game, we are pleased to get the win," Collier said. "However, I have high expectations. They are probably higher than the girls. We will go far as our pitcher and catcher carry us. But we should be able to contend for the district and do well in the playoffs. We just have to learn playing together."
Jones shares Collier's sentiments. She also found her squad much further down the road than expected in the season opener.
"I have caught for the high school team since eighth grade," Jones said. "As seniors, you want to go out with a very good season. This was a good start."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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