April 5, 2009
DeShuni Sanders is ready.
Some would argue the New Hope High School senior could play for the East Mississippi Community College softball team today.
New Hope High coach Tabitha Beard would have something to say about that, especially with the state fast-pitch playoffs expected to start Monday.
Sanders took the final step toward beginning a career at EMCC on Friday when she signed a national letter of intent to join the school''s softball program.
"It means a lot because I have been ready to graduate for a while and I have been ready to get into college and go somewhere," Sanders said.
The speedy center fielder is hitting just under .300 for the Lady Trojans, who beat Neshoba Central 2-1 on Friday to close the regular season.
New Hope will be the top seed from Class 4A-District 4 and is expected to play Lafayette County in a doubleheader Monday at a time to be determined.
Kosciusko earned the No. 2 seed in the district, and West Lauderdale beat Caledonia on Friday to take the No. 4 seed.
Sanders also has two home runs, six stolen bases, an on-base percentage of .450, and a slugging percentage of better than .600 for the Lady Trojans (18-2).
In the fall, she was an integral part of New Hope''s Class 4A state championship slow-pitch softball team. She solidified her prowess in the outfield, using her speed and her arm to throw out seven runners at first base and more than 10 at second base. She had a .550 batting average, a .576 on-base percentage, and a .780 slugging percentage.
Beard said it will be difficult to replace all of Sanders'' skills and intangibles.
"DeShuni is so talented, especially in the outfield," Beard said. "She makes things happen with her speed. She is going to be greatly missed in the outfield."
Beard said Sanders'' mix of power and speed at the plate coupled with her defense will help her move up to the college game.
"I think it will be an easy transition," Beard said. "I think she will really help them out with her speed on the bases and her ability to track anything in the vicinity of her in the outfield."
Sanders considered going to the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State to compete in track and field. She finished third in the triple jump at the Class 4A state meet and third in the high jump at the Class 4A-Region 2 meet last year. She also competed in the 4x100 and the 4x200 relays.
Considering Sanders said New Hope hasn''t started its track and field season, she said it was easier for her to pursue a softball scholarship.
"It is getting close to the end and we haven''t been to a meet yet, so it is time to hurry up and make up my mind about going somewhere," said Sanders, who also was a member of the school''s girls basketball team this season.
EMCC coach Kate Neely, who recently signed Caledonia''s Justine Jenkins and Oak Hill Academy''s Katie Newman, said she loved Sanders'' ability to play in the outfield. She first saw Sanders last year when she came to watch then-New Hope senior Linsey Upton, who is a freshman on the EMCC softball team.
"She has developed over this year and has become a really good outfielder," Neely said. "She has a lot of speed. We play a lot of small ball at East Mississippi, so she will fit right in with us as far as speed goes."
Small ball is when teams use bunts and slaps to take advantage of players'' speed to get on base.
Neely said Sanders will be able to hit and her speed gives the coaches the potential to convert her into a left-handed slap hitter.
Sanders doesn''t know if that will happen, or if she will play in the outfield. She knows nothing is guaranteed, but she is excited about the chance to take the next step.
"I hope this betters me and my game so when I am ready to graduate I have a Division I school looking at me," Sanders said. "I think it will be easy to go from here to there because we work hard just like they do in college and we practice every day, so I am going to be used to practice and games. It will be a good transition."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.