By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
RIDGELAND – Dana Rhea’s message to his Nettleton Lady Tigers was the same Friday as it was Thursday: “You’ve got to win two.”
However, those words took on a more urgent meaning after Friday’s 6-3 loss to St. Patrick in the first game of their MHSAA Class 3A fastpitch softball state championship best-of-three series.
Game 2 is scheduled for 1 p.m. today at Freedom Ridge Park. The third game, if needed, would follow.
“Nothing’s changed,” Rhea said of his “win two” message. “It will just be a little tougher.”
Nettleton (24-5), attempting to win its fourth consecutive state championship, fell behind 6-0 through four innings against the Coast team.
The Lady Tigers rallied for three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning on doubles by Makenzie Hawkins and Chelsea Tucker, a single by Molly Bramlett, and three errors by the Lady Irish.
“What we’ve done all season is take advantage of the opportunity,” Rhea said. “It should have been a bigger inning.”
Nettleton, down 6-3, had runners at second and third with one out, but couldn’t score against St. Patrick’s hard-throwing relief pitcher, Ashlyn Williams.
The seventh grade hurler got the first batter she faced, Kaleigh Tackett, to fly out. She then struck out the next seven Lady Tigers she faced to earn the save.
“I usually come in as a reliever … in close games,” said Williams, who has recorded 104 strikeouts this season. “My best pitches today were my rise ball and my curve.”
Sabrina Turner (13-3) was the winning pitcher for St. Patrick (25-7).
“Sabrina Turner threw a really good game,” St. Patrick coach Tommy Castanedo said. “We made those errors behind her. She should have been out of that inning.”
Nettleton sophomore MariAnna Young (23-5) took the loss in the circle. She gave up 11 hits and recorded four strikeouts.
St. Patrick took a 2-0 lead in the first, then added two more runs in the third for a 4-0 lead on catcher Sarah Van Schaik’s two-run homer.
The Irish scored two in the fifth on a throwing error.
“We just didn’t play well today,” Rhea said. “We didn’t play like a state championship team.”
Castanedo doesn’t expect a cakewalk today.
“Nettleton’s built a great tradition, winning three state championships,” he said. “Their kids didn’t give up today. I expect two tough games tomorrow.”