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New Hope softball team eliminated from playoffs


Adam Minichino



Five innings wasn''t enough for Olivia Ladner. 


While some pitchers would have taken the opportunity to rest after a six-run inning created an eight-run deficit for her team, Ladner preferred to finish what she started. 


That final deficit in Game 2 changed only slightly, which allowed the New Hope High School fast-pitch softball team to force a third game 20 minutes later. 


The break apparently worked wonders for Ladner. 


The junior right-hander rebounded from allowing 10 hits in game two and pitched a complete-game five-hitter to lead Hernando to a 2-1 victory against New Hope in eight innings in game three of its Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A playoff series at Lady Trojan Field. 


"Olivia is one I don''t talk to between games," said Hernando coach Katie Moore, whose team will make its first trip to the North Half State playoffs next week. "She is a very self-contained, self-motivated person. I asked her in the last couple innings of the first game (a 9-3 New Hope victory) if she wanted to rest for about 30 minutes and then go in the third game? She said, ''No. I never want to stop. I will give you 100 percent every time.'' "  


Ladner said she struggled adjusting to the rubber and a hole that threw off her pitching stride. She said she always had been taught she has to cope with whatever situation she faces, so she shortened her stride, tried to get more push off the rubber, and remained positive entering the deciding game of the series. 


"I am short and I have little feet and I couldn''t reach in the hole," Ladner said. "Some tall people have been pitching there. I just had to get used to it, and once I did everything was good from there." 


In game one, Ladner scattered seven hits and worked the outside corner. In game two, she tried to work the inside corner but wasn''t able to hit her spots enough to make it work. 


In game three, she mixed approaches to try to keep the Lady Trojans off balance. She said she worked the count better in the finale and did enough to help erase the memory of the game two effort. 


Hernando (14-12) used the international tiebreaker, which puts a runner at second base to start the inning, to its advantage in the top of the eighth. After D.J. Sanders retired No. 3 hitter Ashley Hitt (four hits in game two but hitless in game three), Catherine Carver reached on a spinning roller up the first-base line that went for an error. Taylor Bray moved from second to third on the play and scored on Ladner''s sacrifice bunt. 


The season ended unusually for New Hope (23-7). Leadoff hitter Haley Tutor sacrificed Bradley to third to set the stage for Anna Holley. The junior second baseman, who is New Hope''s best bunter, fouled off a suicide squeeze attempt and then lined out for the second out. Lauren Holifield then lined a ball off Bradley''s leg. The ball ricocheted to the left and was caught by the shortstop. The home plate umpire, though, ruled Bradley was in fair territory and called her out to the end game. 


New Hope coach Tabitha Beard said game three was a little better from the team''s 3-0 loss to Hernando in game one Thursday, but only by a little bit. She said the Lady Trojans didn''t execute in key situations and weren''t able to solve Ladner as well as they did in game two. 


"We didn''t hit and we didn''t execute at the plate when we had to, and those are things we have done so well all season," Beard said. "I think that is why it is so heartbreaking because you know they can and they have come so close. But I have to believe God has a reason, and it is not for me to know. We''re going to keep working. That is all we can do." 


Hernando capitalized on two errors in the first inning and used a single by Ladner to take a 1-0 lead. 


New Hope answered in the bottom half of the inning on a single by Tutor, a wild pitch, and an infield throwing error on a ball hit by Holifield. 


But the Lady Trojans pushed just two more runners into scoring position before the eighth. 


"We were a little too aggressive in game one and in game three we were watching too many pitches," Beard said. "It is a rhythm thing sometimes, and she got us out our rhythm." 


Beard said she didn''t want to attempt another bunt with Holley at bat in the eighth because the team had lost the element of surprise. She said she couldn''t have asked for anything more with her fastest runner on third and her best bunter at the plate. 


In game one, Holifield allowed eight hits, walked five, and struck out one, but kept the Lady Tigers off balance with a changeup. She made a self-preserving snare of a line drive in the fourth inning after one run had scored. The catch likely prevented a big inning because Hernando left the bases loaded. The Lady Tigers stranded four more runners in scoring position before they pushed across two runs in the top of the seventh. 


Tutor (RBI), Holifield (two RBIs), and Empress Shirley each had two hits, while Holley, Sanders (RBI), Anna McCrary, and Bradley each had hits. 


The game marked the end of the high school softball career of Shirley, the team''s only senior. 



Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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