CUMBERLAND – Swayze Hollenhead is thankful the fast-pitch softball programs at Houston and Eupora high schools allowed her team, East Webster, to practice and play on their fields.
The tornado that ripped through this small community April 27 left the Lady Wolverines’ dirt diamond surrounded by twisted trees, downed power lines and splintered buildings.
“Everybody’s been so nice to us,” said Hollenhead, a senior pitcher.
But playing “home” state playoff games in Houston and Eupora wasn’t the same as actually being at home. While the Wolverines defeated Eupora and Mantachie in the first two rounds, people in the community worked to get East Webster’s ballpark game ready.
In last week’s state semifinals series against Hatley, the Wolverines were able to return home to play.
“It meant a lot to the girls,” East Webster first-year coach Meleah Brown said. “Our seniors got to play there final game there.”
A larger-than-usual crowd welcomed East Webster home and saw the Wolverines defeat favored Hatley to advance to this week’s Class 2A state championship series in Ridgeland.
“The game was the first thing that happened at this school since the storm,” senior shortstop Cayley McClellen said.
“People who usually don’t come to games were here,” Hollenhead said. “That’s why we’ve dedicated the rest of this season to our community and fans.
“It was great being on this field again. It felt like we were whole again when we played here.”
East Webster (20-6) begins its run for a fifth state championship at 1 p.m. today when it plays defending state champion Enterprise-Clarke at Freedom Ridge Park. The best-of-three series will conclude Saturday, starting at 11 a.m.
The Wolverines won state titles in 2006, ‘07, ‘08 and ‘09.
In the ‘06 series they defeated Bogue Chitto at East Webster in the final game, taking a 1-0 victory to win the championship.
“That run was unearned,” points out Brown, the Wolverines coach. She should know. East Webster’s coach was the pitcher for Bogue Chitto.
“I had such a bad feeling that day,” she said. “When I left, I told myself I was never coming back to East Webster.”
Brown, a Mississippi State graduate, became East Webster’s coach this past December.
“It’s very ironic how things worked out,” she said. “You know, we had signs in the outfield to honor all the state championship teams. I used to see that 2006 sign every day. The tornado blew it away.
“I laughed and told them, we’re not going to replace it.”
Hollenhead has pitched every game, which means she has a 20-6 record. She also provides power at the plate along with sophomore first baseman Bailey Williams and eighth grade catcher Autumn Frost.
Two juniors, Michaela White and Montana Spencer, along with sophomore Katie Gordon, play in the outfield. Mamie Hollenhead, an eighth grader, and Chloe Roberson, a junior, flank McClellen at third and second base.
“We’re not a powerhouse when it comes to hitting, but we do a good job scoring runs,” Brown said. “Our defense has played well after we made some changes. They’ve really stepped it up.
“It’s difficult to play us.”
Even when the Wolverines are not playing at home.
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593 or email@example.com.
– Class 6A: Madison Central vs.
Petal, 11 a.m.
– Class 4A: North Pontotoc vs.
Newton County, 1 p.m.
– Class 2A: East Webster vs.
Enterprise-Clarke, 1 p.m.
– Class 5A: Lake Cormorant vs.
Wayne County, 1 p.m.
– Class 3A: Nettleton vs. St.
Patrick, 10 a.m.
– Class 1A: West Union vs.
Bogue Chitto, 1 p.m.
Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal