August 25, 2010 10:50:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The first words Jessica Dickens delivered in her post-game interview were said with a sense of relief.
"How about that hitting from Bailey Wofford?" the Starkville Academy head coach asked.
Indeed, her most experienced player enjoyed an all-star caliber day against opening-day spoiler Hebron Christian, putting the team a game above .500 following two wins on the bounce.
Wofford wore out left-center field with three triples and four RBIs in the Lady Volunteers'' 9-4 win Tuesday, and the weight and timing of the performance has her head coach anticipating a late-season run of form.
Starkville Academy (10-9, 1-2), has a Thursday doubleheader against Winston Academy before hosting Jackson Academy and traveling to the delta for a game against Pillow Academy.
Following Monday''s conference win over Madison-Ridgeland Academy, Lady Vols'' leadoff hitter Mary Austin Barber didn''t hesitate to rate the team''s offensive play.
"It''s better than we did (Monday) and the best we''ve hit this year," Barber said. "We played up to our ability today."
But Barber, who went 3-for-4 with three steals Tuesday, was one of just four Lady Vols to register a hit. The bottom half of Starkville Academy''s lineup struck out eight times and was ineffective against Hebron pitcher Chloe Tapley, who started the game on the bench to give Jessica Fleming her first start in three weeks.
The woes at the bottom of the order are tied to the team''s first-year starters, but 19 games into the season Dickens is desperate for someone to deliver.
"We''ve got to find somebody in the bottom of the order who wants to hit and will come through in the clutch moment," Dickens said. "We''ve got the kids we can count on every game, but we still need a couple to come through in the bottom of the order."
Dickens lamented a string of runners left on base while the team was up 7-2, relying on defense and Julianne Jackson''s pitching to lessen Hebron''s momentum late in the game.
"When you get up that high, you''ve got to be able to put them away and have a killer instinct," Dickens said. "And that is what we are lacking besides the bottom of the order."
But Dickens and her players agreed, Tuesday''s win was vital to vying for a playoff spot as the team has just four Class AAA games remaining.
"They''ve already got us this year, and I think it''s good for our confidence to beat them," Wofford said. "I think the whole team has to work on keeping each other up and making routine plays, but we''ve got to work on hitting some more.
"We can still pull it out this year."
Hebron Christian coach Cass Tapley called Starkville Academy "the most improved team in the state" since the summer league season, and wasn''t disappointed with the loss.
Hebron Christian (11-6, 2-0) is on solid ground heading into Thursday''s home game with Calhoun Academy.
"These kinds of games happen to you," Tapley said. "We had to throw it across the plate the first three innings, and they just hit the ball."
Tapley''s daughter, Chloe, breezed through the Lady Vols'' bottom five, but couldn''t keep Wofford off ball as three of her five hits came off Wofford''s bat.
Chloe Tapley, Hebron''s No. 1 pitcher, gave up six hits and one run, and will return to the mound against Calhoun.
Jackson was the winning pitcher for Starkville Academy with six innings pitched and six hits allowed. She had three strikeouts and no walks.
Hebron centerfielder Magen Tapley went 2 for 2 and registered an RBI.