May 6, 2010 2:04:00 PM
HAMILTON -- The pieces usually come together at this time of the season for the Hamilton High School fast-pitch softball team.
Led by seniors Katie Beth Dahlem, Lyndsey Williams, Shelby Savage, and Chauncia Willis, the Lady Lions are focused on adding another title to the slow-pitch crown they won in the fall.
Hamilton will try to take the next step at 6 p.m. today at Eupora in game one of the best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 2A playoff series.
Hamilton (17-8) swept East Union to keep the quest for a two-title season alive. Dahlem, Williams, Savage, and Willis played key roles in Hamilton''s run to the slow-pitch crown. This season, they have provided clutch hitting, timely fielding, and solid pitching on a team that is sprinkled with experience and youth.
Dahlem, who will play softball at Northeast Mississippi Community College in the fall, said winning the slow-pitch state title "spoiled" her and her teammates. She said the Lady Lions have felt they could have won other championships, and they believe in themselves this season.
"We''re not going to settle for anything less (than a state title)," Dahlem said. "I want to do all I can to help the team (win a title)."
Dahlem, the starting catcher, is doing her best to help lead the way. Coach Jason Cobb said she is hitting better than .400 and is just one of many potent hitters in a balanced lineup.
Williams, who pitches and plays in the infield, said winning the slow-pitch title, the school''s first since her seventh-grade year, took a weight off the team''s shoulders. She said that feeling has motivated the fast-pitch girls to duplicate that feat.
"My hitting has been pretty decent this season, but it always can be better," Williams said. "This year has been our best hitting season since I started playing."
Willis tore an anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee at the end of the 2008 slow-pitch season and didn''t return until the end of the fast-pitch season. The first baseman/designated player provides a powerful bat in the middle of the Lady Lions'' lineup.
Now that she is healthy, Willis said she and her teammates are excited to be in position to make a run at another title.
"In the beginning, we struggled a little bit, but we''re playing all right now," Willis said. "We struggled with defense, but we''re hitting good. We have hit better this year than last year. We''re finding the gaps."
Savage also hopes to stay healthy. She injured her hamstring in game one of the best-of-three Class 2A fast-pitch title series against Loyd Star last season. She dressed out for game two, which Hamilton lost, but didn''t play. She said it would be special to end her high school softball career with a fast-pitch title, the first in the history of the school.
"This group has been playing together for a really long time, especially the four seniors. We have been playing together since the seventh or eighth grade," Savage said. "Our biggest thing is if one gets down the whole team gets down, so we try to stay up for each other. When someone makes an error we try to go to them and keep them up. We have done a lot better with that since the playoffs started."
Williams, who will play softball at Itawamba C.C. in the fall, said the seniors have talked about how they set the tone for their teammates, and they know it will be their responsibility to make sure everyone is positive and playing together for the remainder of the playoffs.
"Most of the seniors if they are up everybody else is up. If they are down, everybody else is down," Williams said. "That is just how we are for some reason. ... We have the ability to (win a state title), and everybody knows it. They all want to do it as much as we do."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.