New Hope’s Anna Holley, left, snags the softball Thursday in her team’s 16-0 district-clinching victory over Saltillo as teammate Brandi Brantley (20) watches. Photo by: Kelly Tippett/Dispatch Staff
October 1, 2010 10:03:00 AM
The New Hope High School slow-pitch softball team used a 20-hit barrage Thursday night to paint another picture-perfect moment at Lady Trojan Field.
Buoyed by four-hit nights by Haley Tutor and Lauren Holifield and a three-hit effort by Anna Holley, New Hope defeated Saltillo 16-0 in four and a half innings to wrap up the Class 5A, Region 1, District 1 title.
Holifield led the attack with a home run and seven RBIs. Holley also had a home run and four RBIs as nine of the Lady Trojan starters had hits. D.J. Sanders, Anna McCrary, and Brandi Brantley each added two hits.
The victory gives defending Class 5A state champion New Hope a bye in the first round of the North Half tournament. The 12-time state champion Lady Trojans will play host to the winner of the Neshoba Central-Forest series on Saturday at a time to be determined.
New Hope earned its latest title in a style that added to the pageantry of Senior Night. The Lady Trojans honored seniors Tutor, Holley, Jessica Moore, and Brandi and Brittney Brantley after the game. There were plenty of hugs and tears to go around until the rest of the Lady Trojans performed a series of skits that poked fun at the seniors and coach Tabitha Beard.
After that, the team and family members watched a slide show filled with pictures that highlighted the maturation of the five seniors, replete with plenty of softball images.
The moment was special to Beard and assistant coach Connie Harris, who took over the program for the 2007 slow-pitch season.
"These girls started out as part of a much bigger class," Beard said. "I think there were nine of them originally. They have been through a lot together, and we have been through a lot together. I always call them my babies because I feel like this is my first class.
"This is a really special group of girls. I have grown close to all of them. It is one of those days you never want to see come. I have dreaded this day from the first day I met them. ... They have great personalities you just want to be around. They have just made my job so easy."
The seniors presented the coaches with a book filled with pages of pictures from through the years. The back pages featured individual player pages with personalized written messages.
The gift reflected the special relationship each of the seniors has with Beard and Harris and a program that means so much to all of them.
"Being part of this program is something that builds you up as a better person," said Brittney Brantley, who started her final regular-season game at catcher. "The people and the coaches out here may be hard on you, but they make you a better person and stronger by the time you leave high school."
Brantley hasn''t had a lot of playing time in her career with the program, but she thanked Beard for trusting her with the opportunity to play on such a special evening.
Brandi Brantley echoed those thoughts, saying she will miss her teammates, many of whom she grew up with on the ball fields.
"We''re like sisters," Brandi Brantley said. "We fight, and coach Beard and coach Connie fight with us and get on us, but it is making us stronger, and it is making us a better person and a better ballplayer. Being part of this is special to everybody out here."
Brandi Brantley, Tutor, and Holley have been the with program the longest -- since seventh and eighth grade. The lessons they have learned through the years came through Thursday night, as the Lady Trojans delivered another errorless game in the field. The consistency at the plate from No. 1 to No. 11 also was impressive as the team prepares for its quest to win its fourth consecutive slow-pitch state title.
Holley said a mix of hard work and fun has put the Lady Trojans in position to add another sign to an outfield wall that has chronicled the maturation of the seniors and countless other players.
"This program to me means my life," Moore said. "Every time I pass by this field I think about it as my second home. All of these girls are like my sisters. I love them to death. Coach Beard and coach Connie are like my moms. They help you through so much, not just softball. They help you as a person, with boys, with life, with love, with school -- anything. They are there for you no matter what. This program is amazing."
Tutor was last to explain what the New Hope softball program means to her and she said her teammates said it all. She took a moment to recall her most memorable moments, like when she got hit in the face with a ball, and she wrapped her arm around Moore to thank her for being there for her and helping take care of her when she was down.
That team chemistry has served the Lady Trojans well this season. Tutor said the team has made great strides since the beginning of the season -- through position changes and sluggish hitting -- to position itself for another title run.
"We have grown so close together," Tutor said. "It is unbelievable how close this team is now from the beginning of the season. I am proud of how far our team has come."
Judging from their performance Thursday, the Lady Trojans are primed to add a few more championship pictures to their slide show.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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