JACKSON – Nettleton coach Dana Rhea isn’t all that surprised that his Nettleton Lady Tigers are back in Jackson today to defend their 2009 MHSAA Class 3A slow-pitch championship.
That team, which also won two fast-pitch titles, lost six seniors and had most 3A teams licking their lips to get back at the Lady Tigers after four dominant years on the diamond.
Recently, Nettleton (25-5) has done it with the long ball.
“I think I said earlier in the year that it’s going to take some games to get going but I think we’re going to be good once we get going,” Rhea said. “It took a little longer than what I thought, but hey, we’re here.”
A three-game series rematch with Clarkdale (26-3) will begin at 11 a.m. at V.A. Fields. The Lady Bulldogs defeated Southeast Lauderdale 10-6 and 14-3 on Tuesday to win the South championship.
Nettleton advanced with six straight playoff blowouts after edging itself into the postseason.
The last two came Wednesday after eight home runs in a sweep at South Pontotoc.
Leading the streak that has included 17 home runs is junior Makenzie Hawkins, who has 11 home runs this season, six in the playoffs. She has led off three of the last four games with homers.
The long balls have come in bunches for Nettleton.
In the playoff-opening series against Corinth, senior Michele Hester hit two home runs, senior Hayley Parker and Hawkins hit bombs as well. Against Independence, Hawkins hit four, senior Jessica Patterson one.
“They’re a loaded gun,” South Pontotoc coach Adam Patterson said. “That’s the best two games of hitting probably I’ve seen this year.”
The front four hitters – Hawkins, Parker, Hester and Patterson – all agreed in unison that there was at least a little doubt that a new-look team could get back to this point.
“If you would have seen us the first practice, you would have never thought we’d be here. It was bad,” Patterson said.
But with a solid group of replacements that have found their way at the plate and especially on defense have made that doubt disappear.
The first-year group features freshmen in Lauren Baldwyn at third and Kaleigh Tackett at second, sophomores in pitcher Anna Kent, catcher Chelsea Tucker and Molly Bramlett in right. Leftfielder Korie Beth Leach had the most playing time outside the four regular starters.
As far as Rhea is concerned, no one has to give his team a chance to compete today.
“I love that kind of stuff, when the paper writes that. I love being the underdog and I just use that as billboard material,” he said. “We just put that up in the dugout and they see that every day. We want y’all to keep counting us out. Keep counting.”
Class 2A: Mantachie vs. Enterprise-Clarke
– The Mantachie Lady Mustangs simply refuse to lose. Trailing 10-0 to Eupora in an elimination game in the quarterfinals, the Lady Mustangs rallied to win, 13-12, and keep alive their season.
Down 7-1 to Hamilton in a decisive Game 3 of a Class 2A state semifinals series, Mantachie would outscore the Lady Lions 8-0 the rest of the way to emerge with a 9-7 victory and its first berth in the state finals since 2006.
“This one feels a little better than 2006,” Loague told the Itawamba County Times. “Nobody gave us a chance. I mean we only won six games last season and now look at us: We are North half champs. I’m so proud of these girls.”
Mantachie hopes to have better luck this time in Jackson. The Lady Mustangs lost to powerhouse Clarkdale in the ’06 finals.
Class 1A: Wheeler vs. Bogue Chitto
– While his team may not know a whole lot about Bogue Chitto, you can expect Andy Richey’s Wheeler Lady Eagles to bring their A game into today’s best-of-three state championship series with the Lady Bobcats.
“Not very much,” Richey said on the phone Friday afternoon when asked if he knew a lot about the South champion. “They’re a pretty solid ballclub. From what I’ve heard, they are pretty solid defensively and hit the ball pretty well.”
One through seven in Wheeler’s lineup has raked pretty well of late, especially with Brooke Jones and the Michael sisters, Mallory and Gracie, occupying the first three spots.
“We got a pretty good, solid bunch also,” Richey said while en route to Jackson Friday. “It should be a pretty good series. The team that makes the least amount of mistakes should win.”
MHSAA Slow-Pitch Finals
Where: VA Fields, Jackson
When: All three games will be played today on the six fields at the complex. Game 1s are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. with Game 2 and the if necessary Game 3 tentatively set for 1 and 3, respectively, this afternoon.
Admission price: $10 per ticket.
Brandon Speck/Monroe Journal