June 24, 2009
The school colors have been worn for the final time.
But New Hope High School graduates Victoria Culpepper, Kristen Harvey, and DeShuni Sanders wouldn''t have closed their careers any other way.
The former Lady Trojans closed their high school careers last weekend with a host of other local players at the Mississippi Association of Coaches All-Star games at Newton County High School in Decatur.
Culpepper and Harvey joined Starkville High''s Robin Spencer in the Class 4A/5A Slow-Pitch All-Star game on Friday, while Sanders played in the 4A/5A Fast-Pitch All-Star game on Saturday.
Sanders is the only New Hope High player who will continue her softball career in college. She will attend East Mississippi Community College in the fall.
Harvey will attend Millsaps College on an academic scholarship. She plans to study pre med.
Culpepper will study nursing at EMCC.
All three players said they enjoyed the high level of competition in their final high school games.
"With us winning a state championship in slow-pitch and with the way the year ended, it was a great way to cap it off," said Harvey, who played third base in the doubleheader. "I guess it hasn''t sunk in (that the games were her last chance to wear her school colors). It has been great. Maybe it will hit me harder later."
Culpepper, Harvey, and Sanders played key roles in helping New Hope win the Class 4A state slow-pitch titles the past two years. The fast-pitch team won the past two district titles. It lost to Cleveland in the semifinals of the Class 4A North Half state tournament.
Harvey, who had five hits in the doubleheader, said she will focus on academics in college. She said she might try to walk on to the team at Millsaps.
If she doesn''t continue playing softball for the college team, she will remain active in recreation softball. She plays on a couple of teams in the women''s league at Propst Park.
"I think it will be OK," Harvey said of the possibility that softball won''t be as big a part of her life. "I can always pick it up again and play with somebody or play somewhere if get I get bored. I think it will be good for a little change. I may miss it because I am not playing it as much, but I still will be involved and it still will be a big part of my life."
Culpepper echoed Harvey''s thoughts and said she really hadn''t thought about what it was like to wear a New Hope uniform for the last time. She finished her high school career by playing in left-center field and collecting three hits.
"It was kind of sad (wearing the uniform for the final time), but I had a lot of fun and I enjoyed it," Culpepper said. "There were a lot of really good players and we had a great team and a great coach."
Culpepper also plans to stay active in recreation leagues. She even said she might try to catch some of Sanders'' games at EMCC.
Culpepper said the lessons she learned in softball will stick with her even if she doesn''t play the game as much when she gets to college.
"It has meant a lot to me," Culpepper said. "I have learned how to be a better person through all of the things that my coaches have taught me. They have taught me good discipline and other important things like how to be on time."
Sanders enjoyed her experience even though her North Half team lost both its games to the South squad.
If the games were any indication, Sanders showed she already is transitioning to the college game. On the softball field, Sanders'' speed makes her a defensive standout in center field. It also gives her an edge when she is at the plate because she can use her speed to beat out hits in the infield.
On Saturday, Sanders said she reached base multiple times on bunts and infield grounders. It remains to be seen whether Sanders, who has good power from the right side of the plate, will swing away or if she will become a left-handed hitter and become a slap hitter to capitalize even more on her speed.
Sanders said the all-star games gave her taste of what she can expect faster pitching to be like in college.
"I really don''t think it can get much faster than that," Sanders said. "They said the pitching was around 60 (mph) or maybe a little faster. I don''t think it gets much faster than that. If it does I just hope I am ready. I think I will do fine."
As for playing her final game in New Hope High colors, Sanders said she wished she could have helped the team win at least one game but she was proud she made a good showing against some of the state''s best players.
"When you''re playing (in high school) you really think it will never end," Sanders said. "I am excited that I am going to get to the next level and that I am going to play in college. I have been playing for New Hope for so long that it is sad (it''s over)."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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