By Melissa Meador
Hamilton and Nettleton have combined for four slow-pitch softball state championships over the past five years, but this season, they’ll be joined by another Monroe County face at Ridgeland.
Amory (29-5) makes its first state championship appearance since winning it all in 1999 and after missing the postseason since a division title in 2010.
“I’m not sure if we’ve just bought in this year or what, but we’ve hit,” Amory coach Chris Pace said. “That’s always been our weak point, and we’ve had more confidence there. Our three seniors have went hard for six years, and they deserve to be here.”
Outfielder Bailey Boyd pointed to an early win over Smithville, in which the two county rivals went 18 innings, as a turning point in the Lady Panthers’ season.
“I think you could tell in that game that we weren’t going to quit, no matter what the struggle was,” said Boyd, one of three seniors along with shortstop Bailey Oswalt and first baseman Josie Booth. “Coming out hitting on Tuesday was a big confidence booster, and I hope we continue it.”
Hamilton’s five seniors – Alison Atkins, Raimi Bryan, Taylor Hyland, Jordyn Jackson and Cheyenne Logan – are going for their third ring in the last five years after winning 2A in 2009 and 2012, but it’s underclassmen also getting big hits for the Lady Lions (23-7) in the postseason.
“Our seniors have led well all year, but I’ve had some younger girls come through in clutch situations,” Hamilton coach Bryan Loague said. “Addie Thompson and Hailee Jones had big home runs against Smithville and West Union. We knew we had a shot to be here all year if everything fell into place.”
After a perfect season and winning 3A in 2011, Nettleton (26-3) missed out on the trip to Ridgeland last season after being swept by South Pontotoc in the North finals.
“It’s something that’s had a lot to do with our success this season. The girls felt like they came up short last year,” said Nettleton coach Dana Rhea, whose team trailed Mooreville 8-3 at one point on Tuesday. “Once our girls get a spark, they’re tough. We feel like if we play our game, we have a good shot.”