It’s all worth it – Hard work pays off with successful 1A title defense

By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal

RIDGELAND – Smithville’s Jeremy Duke is a demanding, take-no-prisoners softball coach at practice.
As a matter of fact, his Lady Seminoles have come to expect a strenuous, fundamentals-stressed session every time their cleats hit the dirt.
“He works us to death … but it pays off,” said senior first baseman Kyla Ford.
Saturday, the Lady Seminoles’ hard work earned them a second-straight MHSAA Class 1A slow-pitch state championship. Smithville swept South champion Sebastopol 13-12 and 11-7 at Freedom Ridge Park.
The Lady Seminoles (24-11) also won the fast-pitch state championship last spring.
“Since the tornado, we’ve won three in a row,” an excited Duke said moments after the awards ceremony. “I’m proud of them.”
Sophomore outfielder Laken Armstrong, who recorded six hits, including a triple and two doubles, and drove in five runs in the two title games, credits her team’s Duke-inspired work ethic for its success.
“He puts us through tough workouts,” she said. “He pushes us the whole time, but winning state makes it all worth it.”
Smithville drew from those tough practices in Saturday’s opener after watching Sebastopol (18-11) turn a 9-4 deficit into a 13-9 lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning.
The Lady Seminoles responded with a four-run inning and clinched the win with a one-out, two-run single by sophomore shortstop Lane Kennedy.
‘It wasn’t just me’
“I went up there praying for a hit … nothing big,” Kennedy said. “It wasn’t just me. My teammates started it and I finished it.”
Duke was concerned how the two-hour break between games might affect his team’s momentum. A five-run first inning in the second game calmed those fears.
“It put Sebastopol on their heels and allowed us to settle into the game,” he said.
Armstrong’s double and Morgan Barrett’s single produced a four-run fifth for Smithville. Kennedy’s triple added a run in the sixth and an Armstrong double in the seventh made it 11-4.
Sebastopol scored three in the seventh before Ford recorded an unassisted out at first to set off the celebration.
gene.phelps@journalinc.com