April 7, 2010 9:33:00 AM
The New Hope High School fast-pitch softball team is ready.
After an unusually long road trip due in part to weather-related problems to start the season, the Lady Trojans finally returned home Tuesday, and did so in style.
Lauren Holifield had three hits, including two triples, to lead a 10-hit attack in New Hope''s 15-0 victory against West Point in a Class 5A, Division 3, District 1 victory. The game was called in the bottom of the third inning due to the mercy rule.
"We have had some big long breaks and we''re ready to play," New Hope coach Tabitha Beard said. "Playing 14 games and it being the first of April, that is crazy. We have been playing since Feb. 27 and we have only played 14 games. We''re loving the weather, we''re ready to play, and we''re working hard. I think they''re just really tired of seeing me at practice."
The victory clinched the district title for the Lady Trojans (10-4) and earned them a home playoff date in the North Half State tournament.
New Hope and West Point are the only schools in the district that have fast-pitch teams.
Haley Tutor, Anna Holley, D.J. Sanders, Empress Shirley, Rachel Rhoades, Jessica Moore, and Brandi Brantley also had hits for New Hope.
Sanders didn''t allow a hit in three innings. She struck out six and walked two.
Beard said defense, which has been a staple of New Hope slow- and fast-pitch teams, and pitching have been constants this season. Sanders, an eighth-grader, has teamed with freshman Holifield to give the Lady Trojans a solid one-two punch.
But Beard knows as impressive as her team looked Tuesday it will have to raise its level of play later in the season. She said the Lady Trojans realize that and are primed to do what it takes.
"We play Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for the next three weeks and then we start playoffs," Beard said. "We know we''re at home (for the first round) of the playoffs, and we''re ready to get better. A lot of that comes from game experience. I can work them until I am blue in the face, but there are things that happen in the game that I don''t do in practice, so we''re ready to work."
New Hope has lost to Nettleton, Northwest Rankin, DeSoto Central, and Grenada. Beard said the Lady Trojans have rebounded from having players out of the lineup with stomach viruses. She said the team''s offense has sputtered in those losses, and she knows that can''t happen against the caliber of teams New Hope will face later in the season. She said the team still has things it needs to work out, but that it is getting better.
Beard said Rhoades has made the transition to shortstop. She said the defense has leveled out and still has room for improvement.
"I am not completely satisfied by any means, but our pitching has been great," Beard said "Even in those games that we lost, a lot of times we got the batter to do what we wanted them to do, but we made some mistakes. We have cut some of those mistakes out."
Beard said the Lady Trojans'' goal is to eliminate even more of those mistakes so it can take the next step and represent the North Half and play for a Class 5A state title.
"We have to be able to adjust to whatever is given to us," Beard said. "I hope they are now in that state of mind that every game is practice for what''s coming."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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