By John Wilbert | NEMS Daily Journal
They played all comers, but still needed a spark late in the season.
After playing a brutal schedule against the likes of Kossuth, New Hope, Grenada, Clarkdale, Newton County, Tishomingo County and West Lauderdale, the Corinth High Lady Warriors – the eventual MHSAA Class 4A state runner-up, finishing with a 26-9 record this fall – hit a snag in the final 10 days of the regular season.
“We played two bad games against Tishomingo County and Amory,” said coach Janna LaBarreare, who ended up being named the 2011 Daily Journal Slow-Pitch Softball Coach of the Year.
Those losses, coupled with a controversial forfeit in another division game, put the Lady Warriors momentarily out of the playoff picture.
“That week (leading up to the playoffs), it kind of went back and forth,” said LaBarreare. “And then that Friday, when we thought that we were in the playoffs, we had then gotten a call that we were not going to be in the playoffs. … It was just devastating.”
In Division 1-4A, Amory was to finish in the No. 2 spot just ahead of Corinth due to a late-season victory over Itawamba AHS via a forfeit. Only the top two teams in the regular season – in terms of head-to-head division play and division tiebreakers – qualify for the MHSAA’s postseason.
What came into question was Itawamba AHS having a player play in both the junior varsity and varsity games against Amory on Sept. 27.
“Apparently, a junior varsity player had played 10 or 11 innings,” LaBarreare said of the alleged MHSAA rules infraction.
LaBarreare added that the Itawamba AHS coach only had 19 players on his roster and he advised the Amory coach beforehand that he had to play a freshman JV player in both the junior varsity and varsity games that day.
“Amory’s coach (initially) agreed to it from what I understood,” the Corinth coach said, “because he just wanted to get the game in with his junior varsity kids. And they played the junior varsity game first.
“So after they (Amory) lost in the varsity game, he (the Amory coach) decided to protest, so that it would count as a forfeit.”
On the roller coaster
For a brief amount of time, it appeared that the forfeit would be upheld and that Amory, not Corinth, would earn the second and last playoff spot out of Division 1-4A.
LaBarreare said she understood why Amory protested the game and that she and her team didn’t view it as a personal vendetta.
“It didn’t really have anything to do with us,” said LaBarreare, who demonstrated enough poise to get a critical call overturned in the bottom of the sixth of Game 2 of her team’s state semifinals series against Tishomingo County. “It just put my players on an emotional roller coaster, though.
“But we did have other opportunities which we could have taken care of” to clinch a playoff spot.
Fortunately for the Lady Warriors, Corinth School District Superintendent Dr. Edward Lee Childress, Corinth High principal Russ Elam and athletic director Chris Coleman “went to bat” for them against the MHSAA, LaBarreare said, in an attempt to get them in the playoffs.
So, a long story short, a negative situation turned into a positive one. And LaBarreare says she has the school’s administration and the entire Corinth community to thank for that.
“It just sparked some energy,” LaBarreare said of the controversy, “because that last week of the season we kind of lost a little of our momentum. We had homecoming and we were off for about six days without playing. We lost some momentum, kind of lost the spark.
“And then we got that spark back and they played in the playoffs the way they had started the season playing. I was proud of them.”
Something to prove
While it certainly wasn’t easy to qualify for the playoffs, in their first season upon moving up to Class 4A following MHSAA’s recent reclassification, the Lady Warriors cruised through the 4A playoffs this fall, sweeping Greenwood, Houston and Tishomingo County to advance to the state championship series.
Unfortunately for the Corinth squad, it ran into a juggernaut in the finals. Newton County – arguably the state’s best team regardless of classification – swept the Lady Warriors to cap off a 35-0 season and its second consecutive state title.
Still, a 26-9 record and a trip to the finals is nothing to be disappointed about. Especially considering the schedule they played and one of their best players, left fielder Erin Frazier, missing games due to her volleyball commitment.
“They felt like they had something to prove,” LaBarreare said.