February 2, 2018 10:04:31 AM
CALEDONIA -- The bug bit Hope Harbin early.
Harbin doesn't remember exactly when it happened, but she recalls something about softball clicking with her when she was as young as 7 years old playing T-ball.
Like many standout athletes, though, Harbin went back and forth between soccer and softball. She also plays basketball, so there never was time to specialize in one or to take a break in between seasons.
But those who have been bitten by the bug know it is difficult to describe how it feels when you have a connection to something you love.
"It just comes to me," Harbin said. "When I am on the field, I feel like there is nothing else going on but softball. When I step on the field, it is like me, my ball, my glove, and the bat. It just comes to me more than anything, I guess."
The Caledonia High School senior realized an opportunity to pursue her dream Thursday when she signed a National Letter of Intent to play softball at Itawamba Community College in Fulton.
Harbin said she had multiple offers from schools at different levels, but that she wanted to stay close to home to start her college career. She said she liked everything ICC coach Andy Kirk and the campus had to offer. Her goal now is to have a stellar senior season and to continue to improve so she will have a chance to start in center field, a position she has come to own at Caledonia High, as freshman.
"She works hard," Caledonia coach Andy Halford said. Last season, Halford served as assistant coach to Kevin Stewart. "She has a lot of talent and is going to do great things at Itawamba."
Harbin said she was ready to play at ICC a year ago. She said she has used the doubts others had in her ability to fuel her success and her development. In fact, Harbin said those who continue to think she won't succeed do so at their own peril.
"I am just thankful for all of the coaches who have helped me because I wouldn't be here without them," Harbin said. "All of the hard work paid off -- all of the early mornings, late nights, coming home at 2 o'clock in he morning from tournaments, it all pays off."
Last season, Harbin played a key role on a Caledonia High fast-pitch team that had its best campaign since 2005. Caledonia (19-15) swept Tishomingo County, Cleveland, and West Lauderdale in the first three rounds. A seven-game winning streak ended in the first loss to Kosciusko. Caledonia, which had lost in the third round the previous two seasons, fell to Kosciusko in the deciding game of the best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A North State championship series.
Harbin said at the time that the Lady Confederates' "got hot at the right time." She hopes to lead a similar run this season out of Region 2, District 1. The new district features Amory, Itawamba Agricultural, Mooreville, Pontotoc, and Shannon.
Halford said Harbin is a multi-sports athlete who excels at soccer and at basketball, but he knows softball has been a big part of her life for a long time. This will be the third year has played for the Express, a team out of Tupelo. Harbin said she also played with the Heat, a team out of Vernon, Alabama, and the Lady Raiders, a team out of Caledonia.
Halford feels the experience Harbin has gained on the travel ball circuit has fueled her maturation.
"She always wants to get better," Halford said. "She is always asking me things or asking me if I can stay after practice to help me with this, or asking me if I see things she can improve on that will make her better.
"Kids with drive like that, that is what you want. You want them to say, 'I signed my scholarship and I will wait my turn.' She wants it now. She wanted it last year."
Caledonia will play a "Meet the Feds" game Feb. 10. It will play a scrimmage against West Point on Feb. 17. Caledonia will play its season opener Feb. 24 at Hamilton.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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