March 31, 2009
CALEDONIA -- Justine Jenkins won''t lie.
The Caledonia High School standout wanted to play softball in college but she didn''t know if she was good enough.
It wasn''t until Jenkins started to relax and to have fun on the softball field that her confidence blossomed.
It didn''t take long for others to notice.
Less than a month after receiving a scholarship offer from East Mississippi Community College, Jenkins visited the campus last week and gave coach Kate Neely a verbal commitment two days later.
Jenkins made her decision official Monday at Caledonia High when she signed a national letter of intent.
"It''s such a happy moment for me," Jenkins said. "I am so excited. I never thought it would come to this. This happening is really a dream come true for me."
Jenkins, who also played volleyball this past season, has been playing softball for six years. She said she wasn''t a natural at softball and had to work hard to catch up after she said she fell behind her peers in middle school.
Prior to this season, she said she spent extra time hitting and improving her all-around game.
"I was an over-thinker," Jenkins said. "This year, I have learned how to relax and to have fun. My hitting got better and everything got better."
Jenkins had planned to go to Mississippi State and not play sports before she received an offer from EMCC. She visited the campus March 24 and gave a verbal commitment Thursday.
Jenkins, a two-year member of the National Honor Society and a four-year participant in the school''s Beta Club organization, joins EMCC softball signees Katie Newman of Oak Hill Academy, Courtney Castleberry of Clarkdale High School, and Celeste Fontenot of Brusly (La.) High School.
Neely said she and assistant coach Casey Finch knew right away they wanted Jenkins. She said EMCC needs to replace sophomore first baseman Josie Matthews, and she believes Jenkins has the potential to produce at the plate and in the field.
"She is very mature and just by the way she handles herself and carries herself we knew she could be that person to step in," Neely said. "She has a very good glove and good communication skills. It is not a guaranteed spot, but I don''t think she will have a problem earning that spot."
Caledonia High softball coach Robin Elmore said Jenkins, a team captain, has been a solid senior leader who has helped the team to an 11-7 record. She said Jenkins leads the team with a .480 batting average and has nine extra-base hits.
"Justine has worked extremely hard," Elmore said. "She has paid the price and went above and beyond anything I can ask. They are getting a great leader not only on the field but off the field. She comes and hits extra or takes extra grounders. Whatever it took."
Elmore said Jerkins has played that role this season. Typically a first baseman, Elmore moved Jenkins back to center field and has helped anchor the team''s defense.
"She is an awesome leader," said Elmore, who has coached Jenkins for the past three seasons. "She has been everything you could want. We''re just trying to figure out how to keep her for another year."
Neely said Finch, who is from West Point, handled the recruiting of Newman, a second baseman. She said she has watched Newman play for a number of years and did well in a tryout at the school.
"She will fit really well with our program," Finch said. "She is probably going to be more of a middle infielder. She is the kind of kid who is versatile and you can put her anywhere and she is going to do it."
Oak Hill Academy fast-pitch softball coach Marion Bratton said Newman is the "kind of athlete who makes a coach look good."
Bratton said Newman, who was voted a team captain, played second base and hit leadoff in the fall for Oak Hill Academy. He said Newman led the team in just about every offensive category and committed only two errors.
"I am proud for her because she has been a very dedicated fast-pitch player for our program," Bratton said. "She goes all out. She has a lot of energy. She is a hustler and a go-getter."
n Swedenburg earns medalist for Heritage Academy: At Greenville, Will Swedenburg shot a 75 to tie for medalist honors and help the Heritage Academy golf team finish third out of 10 teams in a tournament hosted by Washington School at Greenville Country Club on Monday.
Heritage had a team score of 329, following Starkville Academy at 315 and Pillow Academy at 321.
Also for Heritage Academy, Bryce Rader shot 83, Cade Lott carded a 84, Hunter Brown shot an 87, Jase Dalrimple had an 89, and Mark Adams finished at 104.
Heritage Academy is scheduled to play Monday at Indian Hills Country Club in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Tuesday at Columbus Country Club, with East Mississippi Community College serving as the host.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.