July 31, 2010 10:59:00 PM
Mamie Allen was ready.
The Oak Hill Academy pitcher had talked with coach Marion Bratton, so she knew she likely would start in the circle Saturday for the team''s first two games of the Heritage Academy tournament at Propst Park.
The sophomore right-hander didn''t mind she would have to shoulder such a load in 90-plus degree heat.
And when a lingering injury to Maegan Ellis led Bratton to call on Allen for the third game of the day against Starkville Academy, Allen didn''t hesitate.
In fact, she pitched her best game of the afternoon.
Allen allowed just one hit in six innings, while striking out six and walking three to help Oak Hill Academy beat Starkville Academy 8-3 in its last game of the round-robin, four-team event.
Oak Hill Academy (3-0) beat Central Academy 6-2 and Heritage Academy 8-4 in its first two games, and was the only team to finish the event without a loss.
The tournament was scheduled to be a double-elimination, five-team affair, but Winston Academy dropped out Thursday morning, which meant the schedule had to be reworked.
There''s no telling how many games Allen could have or would have pitched in the original format, but she welcomed the chance to open the season in the sizzling conditions.
"It was good for me. It pushed me a lot more," Allen said. "I really needed it."
Some might feel Allen was out in the sun too long after hearing a comment like that. But Allen, who helped lead the Lady Raiders to a 13-11 finish last season, has been pitching long enough to know playing multiple games in a day is the norm in fast-pitch softball. To Allen, the longer she could go Saturday and the longer she will be able to survive in August will help her and her teammates have the confidence and be in position to make a run in the postseason, when things will mercifully be a little cooler.
"It was good, but I think I could have done better," Allen said. "I was proud of myself, three games in a row."
Allen allowed only a single to No. 9 hitter Emily Gregory in the top of the fourth inning. That inning might have been the turning point because with the game tied at 3 Allen then intentionally walked Bailey Wofford to load the bases before retiring the next hitter on a line out to second base.
Oak Hill Academy took the lead for good in the bottom half of the inning. Tori Ellis singled with one out and scored on Maegan Ellis'' single.
The Lady Raiders tacked on two more runs in the fifth on RBI singles by Tori Ellis and Lauren Hitt. They added two more runs in the sixth thanks to RBI singles from Mary Helon Hays and from Abby Falkner. Six players had hits, including two each by Hays, Falkner, and Tori Ellis, which underscores the team depth Bratton spoke of earlier this week.
Allen feels confident that support will be there at the plate and behind her whenever she is in the circle.
"I think we did good," Allen said. "The two-a-days the past two weeks have been really hard, but they really helped us. It paid off big time today. I was really proud of them today."
Bratton also welcomed the effort from his players. The Lady Raiders capitalized on two errors to rally from a 3-2 deficit against Central Academy.
Allen stayed in command against Heritage Academy after Oak Hill Academy again rallied from a 3-2 deficit and saved her best for the afternoon.
Bratton said the effort helped the team open the season 3-0 for the first time in recent memory.
"I am very proud of the girls today," Bratton said. "It takes special people to (play in the Mississippi heat). This is what gets you through life, remembering I have been through tough times before. That has been my story."
Bratton wasn''t as stingy with the water Saturday as some of his old football coaches were with refreshments back when he played. But Allen bulled her neck like a football player, which made Bratton proud. She needed to, he said, because Maegan Ellis, the team''s No. 2 pitcher, has had tightness in her back, so he didn''t want to risk pitching her and possibly making the injury worse.
"With conference not until Thursday, we felt this would make her better for later," Bratton said. "She needed the work, and I thought she pitched her best game in the third ballgame. I thought she finally settled herself down and looked like the old Mamie. She was missing some of her spots early, and we made some early mistakes in the first two ballgames, but I felt like we came back and overcame and got better in that third game."
Central Academy coach Sammy Lindsey can say the same thing about his team.
The Lady Vikings nearly staged an improbable comeback in their second game, scoring 11 runs in the fifth inning before falling to Starkville Academy 16-13.
A two-run single by Blake Rigdon and a two-run inside-the-park home run by Megan Banks helped Central Academy (1-2) overcome deficits en route to an 18-10 victory against Heritage Academy in its third game.
Neely Abrams and Kendall Taylor, who started all three games behind the plate, added RBI singles to help the Lady Vikings extend the lead and pull away.
The performance provided a lift after the mistakes in game one cost the team an opportunity to hit with a chance to win the game.
"Those two mistakes cost us four runs," Lindsey said. "I think we''re going to make the adjustments to get it done. We had a lot of promising things in the first two games."
Lindsey said his team worked through the jitters of the first game. He was especially pleased with eighth-grader Paige Buchanan, who logged the majority of the innings Saturday. Buchanan and Rigdon likely will share most of the innings this season with the graduation losses of Lillian Lindsey and Alex Dawkins and the transfer of Marion Colvin to Pickens Academy (Ala.).
Despite the new faces and different players in new positions, the Lady Vikings, who were the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class A runner-up last season, showed they still know how to fight. Rigdon had a three-run triple and scored on an error and a two-run single and Kellie Hailey drove in a run with a double in the 11-run fifth. But Julianne Jackson, who had limited Central Academy to two runs on two hits through the first four innings, returned to the circle to retire Taylor to end the game.
"There is no quit. We battled to the end," Lindsey said. "We were a couple of plays away from getting that one at the end of the game. Like I told them after the first game against Oak Hill, I still see us making the playoffs and making a run at it. We did a lot of good things. I am excited about this team. I think we have a good shot of getting done what we want to get done."
Oak Hill will play host to Starkville Academy at 4 p.m. Monday, while Central Academy will play Starkville Academy at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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