March 13, 2009
CALEDONIA -- Tabitha Beard almost had a perfect night on her 30th birthday.
But the bottom half of the sixth inning Thursday night nearly made it feel like she was "celebrating" No. 46.
An error and some unfocused play in the sixth helped the Caledonia High School softball team avoid the mercy rule and a perfect game.
New Hope regrouped, though, and wrapped up an 11-2 Class 4A-District 4 victory.
Seventh-grader D.J. Sanders went 4-for-4 with a double, triple, and two RBIs, and Kelli Petty also had two hits, including a home run, and two RBIs.
Eighth-grader Lauren Holifield, who also had two hits, carried a perfect game into the sixth before she allowed a bloop single behind second base to Blaire Ruth with two outs. Justine Jenkins walked and Shaina Cruse reached on an infield throwing error, Maggie Wester followed with a single before Holifield struck out Macy Hicks to escape further damage.
Before the bottom half of the inning, the announcer in the pressbox wished Beard a happy 46th birthday.
In the inning, several New Hope players switched infield positions. The changes might have cost Holifield her perfect game, but the overall loose play forced Beard to go the mound to set things straight.
"I told them to get their heads back in it," Beard said. "They started acting a little silly, and sometimes when you lose focus things like that happen. We had lost focus and I was just trying to get them all back in it."
Beard addressed the bottom of the sixth inning again after the game with her players. She stressed that the Lady Trojans (11-1, 5-0 district) need to maintain their concentration because one detail can turn into a rally that gives an opponent confidence and changes the momentum of a game.
Outside of the bottom half of the sixth, New Hope delivered a solid effort in every area.
The Lady Trojans had 12 hits and put the ball in play. Their ability to make contact against Wester, a hard-throwing right-hander, helped them capitalize on seven errors.
Defensively, New Hope maintained the solid play its showcased in the fall en route to the Class 4A slow-pitch state title. Center fielder Deshuni Sanders charged in to make a running catch on a sinking flyball by Gwen Trahan in the second inning.
In the third, Petty moved to her right to field a groundball by Allison Boney and threw from the ground to record the out.
Offensively, the Lady Trojans used Wester''s speed to their advantage, going to right field with many of their hits. Beard said she couldn''t take credit for her players not trying to do too much at the plate.
She did say, though, that she feels the team''s hitting work in practice off a baseball pitching machine is helping it make better contact.
"I was nervous before the game, but I am nervous before every game," Beard said. "It is just one of those things that sometimes you just don''t know which team is going to show up, especially with the weather. ... They stepped up. They were fired up before the game and they were fired up during the game. They were cutting up and being their usual silly selves, which is fine. They let it take over and we were one pitch away from Lauren getting, I believe, her second perfect game."
New Hope scored three runs in the first on an inside-the-park home run by Petty and an error and a single by D.J. Sanders.
Caledonia committed three errors in the first and another in the second and fell behind 5-0 after one and a half innings.
D.J. Sanders tripled and scored in the fifth and doubled and scored the last of her four runs in a four-run sixth that put New Hope in position to invoke the 10-run mercy rule in the bottom half of the inning.
"(D.J.) has struggled at the plate the last few games," Beard said. "D.J. is young, and she has problems slowing down. I talked to her yesterday in practice and told her I think you are really going to like (Wester). She is real good with fastballs and she did well. She hit the ball well in the J.V. game and turned around and hit well in the varsity game.
"Lauren is the same way. You can tell that those girls are fast-pitch raised girls. They seem to hit the faster pitchers better than some of the old one who are the slow-pitch raised girls. Everybody stepped up and did a good job."
Holifield, a right-hander, doesn''t throw as hard as Wester, but she did a good job Thursday mixing her changeup and moving her pitches to keep the Lady Confederates (9-4) off balance. She recorded two of her strikeouts on changeups.
Beard credited sophomore catcher Anna Holley for handling Holifield and keeping her in the game. She said Holley handles nearly all of the dealings and the pitch calls for Holifield.
"This is their first year together and Anna has stepped up and has learned how to calm Lauren down a lot," Beard said. "She did a beautiful job several times calling the right pitch, calling a riseball when the girls were swinging low."
Caledonia coach Robin Elmore credited Holifield, but she said it is difficult to win games when you don''t make the routine plays and put the ball in play. She said Wester pitched well and deserved better support.
"We didn''t put the ball in play until the very end, and we didn''t put it in play too well then," Elmore said. "We struggled tonight at the bat and definitely didn''t make the routine plays.
Elmore said the Lady Confederates'' overall inexperience and the fact that a lot of players are playing new position has contributed to the team''s inconsistent play. She said the Lady Confederates have hit the ball better than they showed Thursday, and that lack of production doomed them.
"Lauren is an athlete," Elmore said. "She has been around ball all her life and she is a smart player, but our kids can do better than that at the plate. She moves the ball around well, but that shouldn''t control how you hit. You are still putting the bat on the ball no matter where the ball is.
"It is a long season and we are not throwing in the hat. We are going to go back to work and work hard and we''ll see them again."
The teams meet again March 27 at New Hope.
Caledonis is scheduled to play Nettleton and Tupelo today, while New Hope will play at Neshoba Central on Monday.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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