The Meridian Star
Tied 2-2 with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning, Newton County softball coach Justin Chaney made second baseman Latesia Davis a promise. Just put the ball in play, Chaney said –– something good will happen.
Davis, who struggled to put the ball in play during a 2-0 win over Poplarville on Monday night, followed her coaches advice. The sophomore slapped a ball down the third-base line, which Poplarville third baseman Kristen Herndon easily fielded. However, instead of just touching third base to end the inning, Herndon hurled the ball across the diamond, bouncing it past first baseman Sam Gentry and allowing three Lady Cougars to score.
“That play changed the complete complexity of the game,” Chaney said. “What I'm proud of most though, is that young lady struck out three times last night, and she went in and put the ball in play. She had a heck of an at bat. When she puts the ball in play, she puts pressure on people, so I told her when she got to third base, I was more proud of her than anything.”
The play capped off a four-run fourth for the Lady Cougars, who took a 5-2 lead heading into the top of the fifth. From there, starting pitcher Darby Bishop would excel in the circle, keeping the Poplarville bats at bay and not allowing another run the rest of the game. Bishop pitched all seven innings for the Lady Cougars, giving up five hits and striking out three batters on the afternoon.
“After that inning, you could just look into Darby's eyes and you could tell,” Chaney said. “She was like, alright, they got me three more. A three-run cushion in a game like this is more like an seven-run cushion in another game.”
Newton County continued to extend its cushion in the next two innings, as the Lady Cougars scratched out two runs in the bottom of the fifth before rallying for three in the bottom of the sixth. Bishop struck out Poplarville leadoff hitter Branda Northrop in the bottom of the seventh inning to clinch the game and the series, sending the Lady Cougars into a celebratory huddle at first base.
“Up and down the lineup, it was just every girl making a play,” Chaney said. “This is probably the truest team I have ever coached. They are so unselfish, and they are so together with one another, I couldn't be more proud of the bunch.”
Shelby Barrett and Savannah Gates led Newton County at the plate with three hits apiece. Abby Reeves also had a big day with two doubles and an RBI.
Newton County will play Houston in the 4A state championship with Game 1 of the three-game series beginning on Friday from Freedom Ridge Park in Ridgeland at 7:30 p.m. Houston swept Newton County in last year's 4A state championship, and Chaney said he expects the Hilltoppers to be just as strong this year.
“I think it's going to be two quality teams going at each other again this year,” Chaney said. “We got a couple of days to regroup and get ready. Hopefully we will be ready Friday.”