Houston delivers long-awaited title

By Daily Journal staff

Daily Journal staff
RIDGELAND – Houston’s series sweep of defending Class 4A champ Newton County delivered the school’s first championship of any kind since the mid 1980s in girls basketball.
“It’s been a long time,” coach Keith Jernigan said. “The town really got behind us. We had a lot of help (in Ridgeland) with places to eat and stay and a lot of moral support.”
The Lady Toppers also finish the season with the state’s best record at 34-2.
“We had to fight for a lot of the games,” Jernigan said. “The thing that stands out the most is it was different players at different times.”
The Houston girls basketball team won the Class 3A state championship in 1985 behind former Ole Miss standout Cynthia Autry.
The boys basketball team won the Gland Slam title in 1971 and the Class A state title in 1971 and 1972.
The Toppers also have a state championship in boys golf in 1983.
Smithville won its first fastpitch softball state championship Saturday with four freshmen and a seventh grader in the lineup.
“This group could develop into one of the best to come through Smithville,” Lady Noles coach Jeremy Duke said. “Hopefully, we’ll be back here next year.”
Duke noted that he’s had teams with more talent during his tenure, but none as close as this group.
“You can’t describe the heart, the chemistry, the bond they have,” he said. “It can make a difference.”
Duke says there’s no better feeling for a coach than watching a team win a state championship.
“It never gets old,” he said, moments after the Lady Seminoles rallied from a loss in Game 1 to win the Class 1A fastpitch crown. “It’s the ultimate for a coach. I’ve enjoyed watching these players grow this year.”
Smithville has won two slowpitch state championships, including the 2011 title, under Duke.
“It’s great to bring this championship home to Smithville after all the adversity from the (April 27, 2011) tornado,” Duke said.
One more step
Hatley didn’t win the Class 2A state fastpitch championship but players felt like they hit another important mark.
Two years ago, the Lady Tigers made their first trip to the championship series and were swept by Enterprise.
Friday, a 3-2 win against Clarkdale was its first-ever win in a finals series.
“It’s good that we came and won one,” sophomore leadoff hitter Courtney Roberts said. “That was another milestone. Hopefully we’ll come back next year.”
Losing some, not all
Nettleton, who fell short in its bid for a fourth-straight Class 3A title on Saturday, may just be losing two seniors from this year’s North championship team, but they’ll leave some big shoes behind to fill.
Makenzie Hawkins came into the weekend’s state championship series with a state-leading 51 RBIs, and Korie Beth Leach, the Lady Tigers’ centerfielder, was third on the team in RBIs.
“They’ve been part of building this program,” Nettleton coach Dana Rhea after Saturday’s loss to St. Patrick. “They’ve been out here for six years. We tell our seniors to leave it better than you found it, and they’ve done a great job in doing it.”
From this year’s starters, Nettleton will return three juniors, three sophomores and a freshman.
“We’ve got everyone coming back but those two, and we’re hoping for great things next year too,” Rhea said.
Gene Phelps, Brandon Speck and Melissa Meador

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