Ignored no more: Lady Toppers knock off traditonal power for 4A title

By Brandon Speck/Daily Journal

RIDGELAND – Houston felt ignored by the masses and went on a mission to prove everyone wrong.
The Lady Toppers did just that Saturday afternoon at Freedom Ridge Park with a 5-3 win and sweep of traditional power Newton County in the MHSAA Class 4A fastpitch championship series.
“I think we’ve surprised several people this season,” a smiling Houston coach Keith Jernigan said. “We haven’t been publicized much.”
Jernigan threw his hat in celebration after the final out as Houston won its first state title in its first trip here.
The Lady Toppers finished the season 33-2, at one point winning 20 straight. Houston’s lone regular-season loss came to Class 5A North champion New Hope.
Houston won 10-7 on Friday after letting Newton County back in it with late errors.
“When you’re playing a tradition like them, we knew we couldn’t do that today,” Jerningan said.
Eighth-grader Madaline Burdine had two of Houston’s six hits and two RBIs on a single in the third inning to break a scoreless tie. Taylor Lancaster then singled in Burdine for a 3-0 lead.
“I just knew I had to do something,” Burdine said, then smiled. “We feel like we’ve proved people wrong. All the talk was about Newton County. We’ve worked hard.”
Ashton Lampton homered to help Newton County (28-5) tie the game. In the sixth, Houston scored on two wild pitches, Burdine’s the go-ahead run. Lancaster scored for a two-run lead.
In the seventh, Newton County’s Shea Alexander was called out on a controversial call at first base and the Lady Cougars added two more singles that were stranded at second and third as Houston senior Haley Gravat pitched out of the jam.
“The media kind of kicked us in the back we felt like but we enjoyed the wins,” Jernigan said. “We played great all season. The girls gave their heart every time they stepped on the field and the hard work paid off today.”
Gravat improved to 33-2, pitching all of her team’s games. She plans to sign with Northeast Mississippi CC next week. Darby Bishop (7-4) took the loss.
Gravat and her pitching coach, dad John, cried and hugged for several moments alone on the infield following the game.
“This feels great,” Gravat said. “I’m going to miss it.”
brandon.speck@jounalinc.com