By Gene Phelps
Jeffrey Mann felt he made the right decision when he asked Mary Kansas Sullivan to play catcher this season for Houston.
“Anybody who knows anything about fastpitch knows you have to have a good pitcher and catcher,” said Mann, the first-year head coach of the Lady Hilltoppers. “She’s turned into a really good catcher, one I think can play on the next level. She’s that good.”
Sullivan, a junior who’s batting .425, played left field last season on a team that reached the 4A state finals.
“She has a good, strong arm,” Mann said. “I trust her to call pitches. She’s done an excellent job.
“There’s no way we could have been this competitive without her moving to catcher.”
In the circle, senior Taylor Lancaster (15-2) and sophomore Madeline Burdine (11-5) work in tandem with Sullivan.
“They’ve done a fantastic job,” Mann said. “We have two athletes who are pitching. They’re not going to overpower you. They rely on their defense.”
Weather permitting, Houston hosts Lafayette at 5 p.m. today in Game 1 of their best-of-three Class 4A state semifinals series. The winner advances to next week’s state tournament in Ridgeland.
“Everybody’s good when you get here,” Mann said. “Lafayette’s had a good season (24-5 record). I hear they’re fast, beat out a lot of ground balls and put pressure on your defense.”
Houston (24-7) is looking for its third straight trip to the finals. The Lady Toppers won the state championship in 2012 behind former coach Keith Jernigan and star pitcher Haley Gravat.
Mann wasn’t sure what to expect this season. He served as Jernigan’s assistant last year.
“It’s pretty impressive what these girls have done,” he said. “I thought this may be a building year. Now, I thinking, ‘Why not us.’’’
The Lady Toppers’ lineup features senior shortstop Chelsea Gates, who’s batting .431, and junior infielder Talaja Echoles, who has batted .448 with seven home runs.