October 8, 2010 9:00:00 AM
Maturation is a key component of championship formulas.
As the years change, coaches hope younger players notice the habits and tendencies of the older ones and come to make them their own.
The New Hope High School slow-pitch softball program has won 12 state titles in large part because its players have worked hard, played solid defense, and done the little things. As a result, tradition has helped make it easier for each class of players to accept those concepts and to understand it needs to emulate its predecessors if it wants to follow that path.
Brandi Brantley and Jessica Moore are perfect examples of the importance of maturation. Once considered role players, the seniors have emerged this season to play key roles on a team that is set to begin another championship run.
At noon Saturday, New Hope (20-4) will take on Neshoba Central in a second-round, best-of-three Class 5A North Half playoff series. The Lady Trojans received a bye in the first round and are focused on winning their fourth state title in a row.
"I think I have come a long way," said Brantley, who is in her first season as pitcher. "I always got here and I could never hit. I could never get it out of the outfield. I have worked on it, and I am doing a whole lot better. Hopefully I will be able to help our team out and help it make state."
Brantley said she has pushed herself to improve. She credits her teammates for encouraging her as her responsibilities on the slow- and fast-pitch teams has increased.
"It means a whole lot more going to playoffs and making it to state that I am a part of it and playing," said Brantley, who with her twin sister, Brittney, celebrated their 18th birthdays Wednesday.
This season, Brantley is the center of attention. After only one year of pitching in the city''s park league, Brantley is learning how to set the tempo as pitcher. New Hope High coach Tabitha Beard said she was wondered how well Brantley would do in her first season at the position in high school after she walked eight people in a loss to Newton County. Today, she doesn''t worry now about Brantley''s ability to throw strikes because she has adjusted her attitude and has learned to manage her emotions.
"Brandi is such a perfectionist, whether it is grades, school, softball, or whatever it is," Beard said. If the umpire was not giving her that high pitch or that arch, she got really frustrated. She has done a great job of sucking up the emotions. She has done a great job of finding the ceiling (of the strike zone) and sticking to it."
Beard said Moore, an outfielder, has made a similar progression. As a skit following the Lady Trojans'' final regular-season home game against Saltillo showed, Moore sometimes allowed her frustration to get the better of her if she didn''t make a play in the outfield.
These days, Moore keeps her glove on her hand and is a valuable piece to the Lady Trojans'' solid defense.
"I have improved because if the coaches stay on my butt I know they still believe in me," Moore said. "The day they stop getting on me for missing a ball or not hustling enough, I know they have stopped caring or stopped believing in me. Ever since I have been good enough to start varsity, they have been there for me and helped me."
Beard said Moore has played for several years in the outfield and was sort of considered a "backup" to faster players like DeShuni Sanders and Kelli Petty. Now she is one of those "faster" players, in part because she has learned the game and how to cut of angles better and to use the talents of players like Jordan Johnson beside her.
"When I first came here, Jessica, wow, has grown so much," Beard said. "When she was first here, every time the ball was hit to her you were like, ''Oh crap, is she going to catch that?'' Now you don''t do that, and that it is pretty much a done deal when the ball is hit to her area."
Beard said Brantley and Moore are alike in that they are so hard on themselves. She said Moore had a bad habit of getting down on herself, and her performance would suffer when it did.
But she said the players have learned how to control their emotions as they have gained more experience. The result is two polished players who have become team leaders.
"It has been where I needed somebody to stay on me to believe in myself, but know that I have gotten older I believe in myself and I don''t need someone to tell me I can do it because I know I can do it," Moore said. "I am the world''s worst for getting down on myself. To this day, sometimes I get so upset with myself and I get frustrated that I throw my glove, but I have gotten better at it."
Moore also said she has become a better -- and more prompt -- person. She said she regularly used to be late for practices, but these days she shows up 20-30 minutes early, which sets a positive example for her teammates. As someone who has learned how to judge a ball better, how to turn to move toward balls, and how to determine where to play and which directions the batter will hit the ball, she looks back at wonder at how far she has come. She said that''s part of the reason why this season will be so special.
"This is my life," Moore said. "I have played softball since I was young, and being a part like that and having a state championship ring that I helped get means so much."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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