Slow-pitch finals berths at stake today

By JOHN WILBERT / NEMS Daily Journal

They may be young, but they’re pretty darn good.
The three Monroe County teams playing in today’s MHSAA slow-pitch softball state semifinals series feature several underclassmen in their starting lineups.
Here is a general breakdown of the youngsters taking the field for the three teams when the Class 1A, 2A and 3A North series get underway at 5 p.m. today:
• Class 1A Smithville, which will be hosting a Wheeler team that has six seniors, starts four eighth-graders and a freshman.
• In Class 2A, Hamilton has five freshmen playing on a regular basis, and will be taking on another young team: Mantachie has only one senior, two juniors and the rest are in the seventh through 10th grades.
• Class 3A perennial power Nettleton has five first-year starters who are either freshmen or sophomores.
“We’ve got some good players,” said Nettleton coach Dana Rhea. “All season we kind of been waiting for things to come together.
“I don’t know if they will or have. We’ll take it one game at a time and see what happens.”
Things did come together for Nettleton against Independence in Saturday’s Class 3A quarterfinals series. The defending state champion Lady Tigers pounded out 30 hits and outscored Independence 29-2 in a two-game series sweep.
Things will really need to come together against South Pontotoc on Tuesday evening if the Lady Tigers want to make a return trip to the Class 3A state championship series.
“Our goal was to win the division and we fell short of it,” Rhea said of his team’s second-place finish this season in Division 2-3A. “South Pontotoc won the division.
“South Pontotoc is a very good hitting team. Coach (Adam) Patterson is doing a good job. They might be the team to beat in the North.”
In Class 1A, the two best teams all season in the North will be playing for the right to go to Jackson for Saturday’s state championship series. Smith-ville and Wheeler have combined to win 49 of the 63 games they’ve played this year.
West Union coach Lisa Bogue saw her young team lose Games 2 and 3 of its quarterfinals series with Smithville by a pair of 3-0 scores on Saturday. The Lady Eagles won Game 1, 7-6.
“Saturday’s winner has a great possibility to go onto Jackson,” Bogue said prior to playing Smithville in the quarterfinals.
West Union won last year’s Class 1A state title, while it was Jeremy Duke’s Smithville squad winning the 1A championship in 2008.
“It’s a very tough draw,” Bogue said of the North bracket. “It’s the lesser of two evils: them (Smithville) or Wheeler. “We’ll take our chances somewhere, I guess.
“For Wheeler, it’s their year.”
Wheeler won the Division 1-1A title for the fourth consecutive season and is heading into today’s semifinal series with a 27-5 overall record. Wheeler, which swept Myrtle on the road Saturday, lost to Smithville, 5-2, at the Lady Seminoles’ own tournament on Sept. 18.
Meanwhile, Mantachie will be going for its third and fourth wins of the season against its Division 1-2A rival Hamilton. The Lady Mustangs beat the defending 2A state champions twice in the regular season.
Contributing: Brandon Speck (Monroe Journal) and Lee Adams (Itawamba County Times); Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572 or john.wilbert@djournal.com