By Jonathan Wise
NETTLETON – When a softball program has won six straight Class 3A North titles, it gets comfortable with playing pressure-packed games. Nettleton showed that mettle Saturday against North Pontotoc, as an early homer and superb pitching lifted the powerhouse Lady Tigers to 3-1 win over the Lady Vikings to sweep the series and secure yet another shot at a state crown.
The Lady Tigers (25-4) had only recorded two hits when senior third baseman Kaleigh Tackett drove a pitch over the left field wall in the bottom of third for a 2-0 lead, as leadoff hitter Lauren Baldwyn had reached via a walk. It set the tone for the rest of the game.
“Our offense hasn’t shown up in this series at all,” said Nettleton coach Dana Rhea. “We hit the ball decent last night, but we missed some key hits when we needed them. Kaleigh came through with that home run and that was a big spark for us.”
North (25-9) did scratch a run across in the top of the fourth. Senior outfielder Kaitlin Robertson perfectly placed an infield single, allowing speedy catcher Tia Davis to score all the way from second base. That would be all the Lady Vikings could manage, however, off Nettleton hurler Katibeth Finney. The Lady Vikings also put runners in scoring position in the fifth and seventh but came up empty.
“Katibeth has done a fine job for us this year,” Rhea said. “She is a nice change of pace. She throws a little slower, but she just hits her spots and locates well. She pitched really well today, super proud of her.”
Nettleton added an insurance run in the fifth. Tackett tripled with one out and came across on a single to left from Taylor Smith.
Finney “threw kind of slow, and we kept trying to yank a ball that we should have stayed inside of,” said North coach CeeCee Austin. “Both teams came out dead, and it was really anybody’s game, but that home run set the tone and swung it to their favor.”