October 21, 2014 10:31:48 AM
Chelsey Ray knows how deadly quicksand can be.
An error can lead to another mistake and all of a sudden every member of the New Hope High School slow-pitch softball team has her head down. From there, look out because the dominoes start to fall in all of the wrong ways and, before they know it, the Lady Trojans are wondering what hit them.
Ray and the Lady Trojans experienced plenty of moments like that in a regular season that included losses to some of the state's top teams like Nettleton, East Webster, Eupora, and Hamilton. Despite its youth and inexperience, New Hope found a way to prevent those mistakes and to prevent them from multiplying to create the suffocating feeling of being stuck in quicksand.
"If I see someone miss a ball, that makes me want to try 100 times more to try to get everybody's heads back up and do all I can in my position to help the team," said Ray, the team's only senior. "When I hear that word (quicksand), you're sinking, get your heads up let's go. That pretty much means you have to be on your 'A' game, so let's go."
New Hope (16-13) will try to avoid the deadly pitfall today when it plays host to Neshoba Central in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A/6A North State title series. Game 1 of the best-of-three series will begin at 5:30 p.m. at Lady Trojan Field.
Neshoba Central has won the past two slow- and fast-pitch state titles in Class 5A. Last year was the first season Class 5A and Class 6A were combined in slow-pitch softball. This New Hope team could be young enough not to be affected by the thought of facing one of the state's top teams for a chance to advance to the state title series this weekend. After all, New Hope shook off the effects of a 16-6 loss to Warren Central in Game 1 of that best-of-three series Saturday to earn 10-0 and 21-10 victories to advance. The Lady Trojans committed 11 errors in Game 1, only to break out for 40 hits in the final two games.
Ray said what happened in the first game was "very shocking." She said coach Tabitha Beard talked to the players following the loss. She said teammate Lanora Abrams helped bring the girls together after that talk for another discussion that helped everyone bounce back.
"As a senior, it felt pretty amazing to see our team work together like that," Ray said. "It was one of the best experiences I have had in a while on this softball team. We just knew we had to do our best and finish."
Beard said she has been impressed with how a team that has only one senior and two juniors has developed confidence after a slow start. She said the tough schedule at the beginning added to the self-doubt because the team was getting shut out in double-digit losses. Following several of those losses, Beard said she saw a tweet by a New Hope student that said the slow-pitch softball team couldn't win a game. She said that comment served as motivation for her and for the girls to reverse their fortunes.
"We started winning a little bit and having success," Beard said. "We were playing good teams and not winning, but we were playing better softball. We came to a big district game against Columbus, a game that had a lot of hype around it because even with players like D.J. (Sanders) and Lauren (Holifield) we went to Columbus and lost. But at home against Columbus we were down six runs and we came back to win (15-12). I think that was the first game they developed that fight that no matter how far they got down they knew we could fight back."
Beard said that mentality carried over to the Warren Central series and helped the Lady Trojans avoid the quicksand after the loss in Game 1.
"We came full circle," Beard said of her thinking after the Warren Central series. "We fought, we hustled, and we overcame mistakes and got out of the quicksand and picked each other up and didn't get down on each other. We put everything together in the next two games."
Ray agreed that the feeling after that series was "awesome." She hopes the team can put the pieces together the same way today to pull the upset.
"Our team has a really good way of backing each other up and being there for each other," Ray said. "The feeling was that I had family.
"We have come really, really far. Nobody thought we would even make it past districts. To hear that kind of lit a fire under us. We got better and started working more and more as a team. Form the very beginning to now, we have come really far. There are no words to describe it. We were a young team. I guess that is why people didn't expect it, but I know we have it in us. I know we can do it."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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