RIDGELAND – It wouldn’t have been the same if Houlka had beaten Smithville or Bogue Chitto had beaten East Webster in the state fastpitch semifinals last weekend.
The softball stars aligned though and provided a Smithville vs. East Webster rematch in the 2009 MHSAA Class 1A best-of-three state championship series.
The Smithville-East Webster series is one of three featuring Northeast Mississippi teams being played today and Saturday at Freedom Ridge Park in Ridgeland.
In 2A, Hamilton plays Lloyd Star while in 3A, Nettleton meets North Pike. Today’s games start at 6 p.m.
Game 2 in each class will be played at 10 a.m. Saturday with the third games, if necessary, to follow.
East Webster (24-7) has won three straight titles, including last season’s sweep of the Lady Seminoles.
Senior pitcher Jessica Halterman (22-6) is a big reason for the Lady Wolverines’ success. Coach Bill Brand would love to see her add two more wins to her record today and Saturday.
She’ll be facing Smithville sophomore Kami Roberts (23-2), making her second straight state title start. Her team is 26-2.
“I read where she’s throwing the ball around 60-plus,” Brand said. “I don’t guess we’ve seen anybody like that, other than her, since we’ve had this run.”
Smithville coach Jeremy Duke said it’s easy to compare the two pitchers’ styles, but hopes Roberts and mates will eventually match Halterman’s postseason resume.
“As far as pitching and technique, and being a dominant pitcher, they’re comparable,” he said. “As far as been-there-before, I think Halterman’s got a little edge on her, but as far as being able to pitch, I think they’re pretty close.”
Smithville isn’t the only returnee to this year’s finals.
Nettleton (22-1) lost at Newton County in last May’s finals, but is back this time to face North Pike (24-7).
Nettleton coach Chris Kidd has a sophomore pitcher at the front of his rotation – Michele Hester (17-1), who leads a defense that features only one senior, rightfielder Kimmy Nicholson.
North Pike “is a good, solid team,” Kidd said. “They’re real good defensively and hit the ball well. The main thing is, we’re going to have to put the ball in play. We’re going to try to keep sharp on what we’ve been doing. Our main goal is to stay sharp.”
Hamilton in finals
Two seasons ago, East Webster won the 2007 title against Hamilton. The Lady Lions (16-10) moved up to 2A the next season and are now in the finals where it will face Loyd Star (29-1).
“They do the little things well. It kind of reminds me a lot of us,” Hamilton coach Jason Cobb said. “We play a lot of the small-ball type of game. We’ve had a good week of practice. The girls are confident. We’ve just got to carry that on down with us.”
Brandon Speck/NEMS Daily Journal