By Jay Tidwell/Special to the Journal
PONTOTOC – The extra time Yasmeen Cooper spent in batting practice over the last few days paid off for Houston.
Cooper slugged a pair of triples and had three RBIs to help Houston hold off Pontotoc and clinch the Class 4A North championship with a 6-5 win in Game 3 of their MHSAA fastpitch softball series on Saturday.
The Lady Toppers, who earlier won the Division 4-4A title, advance to face the winner of the rain-delayed Newton County-West Lauderdale series in the state finals.
“Yasmeen really struggled the first part of the year, but she came before practice and stayed after practice with our hitting coach and really worked hard,” said Houston coach Keith Jernigan. “Then last week she started hitting the ball to right field in practice, and came through today and really helped us.”
Coopers’ hits for extra bases – both to the opposite field – helped Houston (32-2) bounce back from a 3-0 setback in Game 2.
“We were a little indifferent and maybe overconfident,” Jernigan said. “Then we came out with some enthusiasm in (Game 3).”
Cooper’s first triple scored Haley Gravat and Avery Springer in the third to go in front 3-2. In the seventh, she knocked another RBI triple that proved to be the decisive run.
“I hadn’t really been hitting the ball all season, and so I wanted to step up and help my teammates,” said Cooper, a junior catcher who hit 3 for 4. “All that practice – I wanted to do something for them.”
Pontotoc (20-11-1) rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh. Regan Huckaby and Alex Brown scored on a base hit by E.C. Stegall to trim it to 6-4. Then Olivia Owen scored on a fielder’s choice by Haley Spears with one out to pull within a run. But Gravat induced a grounder to second to secure the win.
“We beat them 3-0 the first game and had them 2-0 in the last one, but I’m not going to hang my head,” said first-year Pontotoc coach Jessica Seger. “And it could have ended 6-2, but my girls didn’t give up and they kept battling.”
Owen’s bases-loaded double scored all the runs needed in Game 2 by Pontotoc, the No. 3 seed from Division 1-4A.
Katlyn Alexander pitched both games for Pontotoc and Gravat tossed all 13 innings for Houston.