By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
RIDGELAND – Newton County coach Justin Chaney calls it “fastbreak softball.”
His Lady Cougars registered a few layups with their up-tempo attack Friday afternoon and sprinted to a 16-3, five-inning victory against defending state champion Houston in the MHSAA Class 4A fast-pitch state championship series.
Game 2 of the best-of-three title series is scheduled for noon today at Freedom Ridge Park. Game 3, if necessary, would follow at a time to be determined.
“Aggressive play, that’s our game,” Chaney said. “It’s just pressure ball. That’s what we try to do.”
The Lady Cougars (29-4), who recorded eight stolen bases, had nine hits, including doubles by Ashton Lampton and Darby Bishop.
They also benefited from five Houston errors. Four of those came in Newton County’s 9-run third inning.
“We had some errors in that one big inning; that’s not like us,” Lady Hilltoppers coach Keith Jernigan said. “They did everything right today and we didn’t.”
Houston (26-7) starting pitcher Audi Dendy was lifted in the third inning. Jernigan wants his right-hander, who’s now 16-4, fresh for a possible two games today.
The Lady Hilltoppers reached Newton County pitching – starter Darby Bishop and reliever Dal-merika King – for eight hits. Mary Kansas Sullivan had a first-inning double and Yasmeen Cooper added a second-inning triple off Bishop.
Talaja Echoles belted a solo home run to right field in the fifth inning against King.
Newton County broke open a 1-1 game with its nine-run third inning. Shelby Barrett and Shea Alexander plated three of the runs with base hits. Three more scored on Houston errors, one on a passed ball and one on a fielder’s choice ground ball.
Lampton added an RBI single and Alexander had an RBI sacrifice fly in the Lady Cougars’ 4-run fourth inning.
Houston will have to sweep today to defend its title.
“These girls are used to winning,” Jernigan said. “Now they’ve got to step back up. We’ve got to come back and be ready to play.
“They’re down right now, but they’re warriors.”