By Blake Long/Special to the Journal
KOSSUTH – It took Nettleton precisely three innings in both games of its MHSAA Class 3A North Championship series on Tuesday evening to get the sticks going.
When they did, Kossuth’s early leads fell on the wayside as the Lady Tigers recorded two come-from-behind wins, 20-14 and 5-3, to remain undefeated and advance to the Class 3A State Championship series Saturday at Jackson’s V.A. Fields.
“There is no explanation,” Nettleton coach Dana Rhea said of his team’s late game offensive explosion. “This is the best unit I’ve coached in a long time. Not all the best players are here. This bunch just knows how to win.”
After Kossuth (20-12) bolted out to a 6-0 lead in game one thanks in part to a grand slam by Kristen Devers, Kaleigh Tackett seemed to provide the spark the Lady Tigers needed.
Her solo home run in the top of the third would begin their 23-hit barrage. The Lady Tigers (26-0) would go on to score 18 runs from the fifth inning to the seventh inning, capped by Tackett’s second home run of the game – a grand slam that put Nettleton up 20-14.
“We’re really big on trying to string some hits together, and her hitting that home run kinda ignited that,” Rhea said. “(Tackett) made the adjustment and she was big for us.”
Kossuth again bolted to an early lead in Game 2 with an RBI single by Paden Tomlin and a groundout by McKenzie Holland that scored Brittany Brooks.
The third inning again proved big for Nettleton, with six straight singles to start. Run-scoring hits by Brittany Adams, Makenzie Hawkins, and Lauren Baldwyn helped the Lady Tigers to what would be a decisive 4-2 lead.
“We were there and we had a shot,” Lady Aggies coach Steve Lyles said. “When they hot we changed pitchers, we moved players around and they found holes. That’s why they’ve won as much as they have.”
Harley Tucker recorded six hits in the doubleheader to lead Nettleton, while Madison Hales 5 for 8 and scored two runs to lead Kossuth.
It’s the third consecutive trip to the finals for Nettleton, which won in 2009 and lost last year to Clarkdale.