JACKSON – Nettleton entered Saturday’s MHSAA Class 3A state championship series with one loss, a 26-1 mark and a chance to follow May’s fast-pitch state title with a slow-pitch crown.
After a 7-5 Game 1 loss to defending 2A champ Clarkdale, the Lady Tigers pulled it together to even the series with an 8-7 Game 2 win and a 5-3 win to clinch the best-of-three series and state championship at VA Fields.
Nettleton coach Dana Rhea said winning the consecutive titles is the product of combination.
“I think it’s a combination of hard work and dedication,” Rhea said. “You got a group of kids here that want to win. It starts there and your coaching staff wants to win too. Our administration wants us to win. It’s just a combination of all those things.”
The Lady Tigers (28-2) got an early wake-up call against Clarkdale. The Lady Bulldogs stormed back from an early 5-0 hole and went ahead 6-5 in the top of the seventh inning on Cory Roberson’s sac fly. Lindsey Beard’s RBI single made it 7-5.
“I’ve told them all season long that if we’re going to win this thing, we’re going to have to play seven innings,” Rhea said. “I think the first game we played four innings. We were up 5-0 and we just quit. (Clarkdale) had a good ball club here today.”
Before losing late, Nettleton had scored three early runs on Michele Hester’s sac fly, Hayley Parker’s double and Sydney Clayton’s sac fly.
It was Clayton who came through in Game 2. Tied at 7 in the top of the seventh, Makenzie Hawkins singled with two outs and Clayton doubled her home for the 8-7 win.
Nettleton had fought back from 4-0 and 7-4 deficits.
Game 3 went Nettleton’s way early. In the third inning, Hawkins drove in Holly Schlicht. Jessica Patterson drove in Parker and Heather Noe reached on a fielder’s choice to score Hawkins for a 4-1 lead.
Noe added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth with an RBI single to score Haydden Payne.
“We just knew that this was what we wanted,” said pitcher Harmony Hood, who had all three decisions. “We knew that if we hit to our potential, they weren’t going to beat us two games in a row.”
Roberson took both losses for Clarkdale (28-5), which scratched out two runs on two errors in the bottom of the seventh. It wasn’t enough to stop Nettleton’s pending celebration after the final out from first baseman Hester to Hood.
Rhea said losing in the playoffs at North Pontotoc last season may have been the alert his team needed.
“We felt like we came up a little short last year, but looking back now, maybe it was a wake-up call,” he said. “Since then, we’re 28-2. That’s pretty good since that point.”
Brandon Speck/Monroe Journal