By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
RIDGELAND – Keith Jernigan’s game plan Saturday included a Game 3 in Houston’s MHSAA Class 4A state championship series against Newton County.
First, however, his Lady Hilltoppers had to win Game 2.
Newton County – and its pitcher, Darby Bishop – didn’t let him execute his strategy. The Lady Cougars swept the series with a 10-0 victory in six innings against the defending state champions at Freedom Ridge Park.
Newton County won the series opener, 16-3, Friday.
“We were looking ahead,” Jernigan said. “We knew we had to win two games.”
Bishop (23-0) was solid in the circle, two-hitting the Lady Hilltoppers and sending them down in order in four innings.
“All of her pitches were working,” Newton County coach Justin Chaney said. “She was hitting her spots.”
Houston (26-8) started its backup pitcher, Avery Springer, to keep Friday’s starter, Audi Dendy, fresh for a third game.
The move by Jernigan also gave the Lady Hilltoppers more speed in the outfield with the addition of Josie Anderson. “Avery’s also a little faster on fielding bunts,” Jernigan noted.
Springer scattered 12 hits and recorded two strikeouts. She had given up five runs on seven hits prior to Newton County’s 5-run sixth inning.
“She did an excellent job for us,” Jernigan said. “We just couldn’t put any hits together. At this level you’ve got to get hits.”
Newton County (30-4) took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on a two-RBI double to left field by Ashton Lampton.
Abby Reeves doubled and Savannah Gates plated her with a single in the third to give the Lady Cougars a 3-0 lead.
End of game
Newton County added two more in the fifth to make it 5-0, then closed it out in the bottom of the sixth. Cassidy Blount’s two-RBI single was a key blow. The game-ending run scored on a ground out by Gates.
Houston put runners on first and second to lead off the fifth, but a line drive out and a ground out ended the threat.
“I’m proud of my players and my seniors – Avery (Springer), Audi (Dendy) and Yasmeen (Cooper),” Jernigan said. “They’ve worked hard to help build this program.”