By John Wilbert | NEMS Daily Journal
Until Emilee Henderson’s 2011 breakout season, Jerry Long never had a slow-pitch softball player hit better than .700.
But what the veteran Tishomingo County High coach probably finds the most impressive is the number of times Miss Henderson was retired.
“She played in 34 games and only got out 25 times,” said Long, who finished up his 18th season coaching slow-pitch. “If she hit it, it probably was going to go a long ways. It probably was going to be at least a double.”
The senior shortstop batted .703, belted 11 homers and drove in 50 runs to earn 2011 Daily Journal Slow-Pitch Softball Player of the Year honors. She had 64 hits, and 41 of those were for extra bases.
“I just got my rhythm down,” said Henderson, who’s being recruited by Itawamba Community College and Northeast Mississippi Community College.
She was also issued 15 free passes this season.
“Last year I did,” Henderson said about letting intentional walks bother her. “But this year I kind of expected it, so it didn’t bother me as much.
“I just went with the flow. I just did it on defense instead of worrying about my offense.”
Boy, is Henderson – a four-year starter who happened to pitch her first two seasons on the varsity – pretty good with the leather as well, as she can play anywhere on the field, says her coach.
“She has a great arm,” Long said. “She can go in the hole and throw you out. She has good range.”
‘Strong as an ox’
Henderson’s offensive numbers are exceptional. They could be even more outstanding if it weren’t for these three restrictions:
• It’s nearly 265 feet from home plate to the entire outfield wall, from left to right, at Tishomingo County High’s home field. “Most slow-pitch softball fields are 225 or 230, and if we played on fields like that all year, she would have had 20 to 22 home runs,” Long said. “She hit a lot of balls out here that one-hopped our fence that’s 265. I’ve only had two players who hit it out of this field.”
• The bats players use now have less pop than, let’s say, a couple of years ago.
• And the balls don’t travel as far as they did.
Nonetheless, Henderson still was a terror at the plate on whatever field she played at. On a Saturday in August, at the New Albany Sportsplex, she homered five times in three games.
Corinth, MHSAA’s Class 4A state runner-up this season, elected to intentionally walk her four of the six times she stepped in the box during October’s state semifinals series. Not to mention, the Lady Warriors tried their best not to hit the ball anywhere near her in the field due to her knack for making plays.
Perhaps the Lady Warriors learned their lesson in the teams’ first regular-season meeting, which the Lady Braves – the eventual Division 1-4A champion – rallied from two runs down to win 6-5 in Corinth. Henderson homered in the top of the sixth to pull her team to within a run.
“Obviously, we have a high amount of respect for her,” said Lady Warriors coach Janna LaBarreare, whose team ended up sweeping the Lady Braves in the postseason. “We didn’t want her to beat us, and she’s the type of player who could single-handedly do that.
“We tried to keep her from having an impact on the game, and I think a lot of her teammates look to her. I guess by taking her out of the game, in that last series, it took a couple of their other big players out.”
Henderson doesn’t only lead with her bat, says her coach, but with her demeanor.
“She’s one of those types that when she says something everybody listens,” Long said of his player, who starts as a forward on the Tishomingo County girls basketball team. “Not only is she such a good player, but she can also physically intimidate you. … She’s just strong. Just strong as an ox.
“She hits the ball a long ways. She’s a good fast-pitch player, too. She’s just a good athlete.”