By Robby Atkinson / Special to The Star
The Meridian Star
Newton County’s slow-pitch softball team returned every starter from a 2012 squad which went 31-3 and finished as state runnerup, making the Lady Cougars an obvious favorite to compete for a title in 2013.
At times this fall, the Lady Cougars didn’t look the part. But when the dust, or crushed brick, settled at Freedom Ridge Park Saturday -- they were hoisting another state championship trophy.
“We had some games this year where we played exceptionally well and we had a couple that were a struggle,” Newton County coach Justin Chaney said. “But like I’ve said before, when it mattered most they got it done.”
Getting it done at Newton County, of course, is expected. Saturday’s title was the 15th softball state championship won by the Lady Cougars and the eighth slow-pitch crown. Chaney attributed the program’s tradition and his players’ work ethic to maintain it as the biggest reasons for the success.
“Every group that comes through our program knows what the expectations are,” he said. “They see older girls win and they want to be a part of it. But to be a part of it, you have to work.
“There’s no way some people outside this program can understand how hard these girls work. We ask a lot of them. We demand a lot of them. And on days like today, we couldn’t be more proud of them.
“The girls put in a tremendous amount of work and our coaching staff puts in a tremendous amount of work.”
Chaney, longtime assistant Randy Bishop and assistant coaches A.J. Clay and Shelby Bishop saw six Lady Cougars play their final slow-pitch games Saturday. In fact, it was the final high school softball game for a handful of those seniors.
“That group has meant an awful lot to this program,” Chaney said of Hannah May, Savannah Gates, RoNeisha Brown, Ashley Gressett, Lindsey Savell and Mary Snowden. “This team is a complete team. They’re a big family; they all know their role. They all accepted their role and they all contributed.”
Each of the six had big moments during the postseason run for the Lady Cougars, who won their final 10 games to finish 28-4. Gates, who had six hits in the championship series, seemingly ran down every fly ball hit to left field. Gressett and Savell had big pinch-hits in the postseason -- including a grand slam by Savell in a South State sweep at West Lauderdale. Brown carried such a big bat she drew 10 intentional walks in one playoff series. Snowden took away several extra-base hits from Amory in the right-center field gap. And May …
“Hannah May just made every play and then some,” Chaney said. “There’s a kid who played just about every position on the field for us at some point through the years and just kept producing.
“And Savell, there’s another great example of a kid doing her part. She came off the bench with pinch-hit after pinch-hit driving in runs in the playoffs. Gates … we put our outfielders on an island sometimes with positioning and every one of them just made play after play and she’s made a bunch of them for us.
“I’m so proud for them that they’re going out on top.”
Newton County also had six juniors who started in Saturday’s championship series, and all six now own five state championships: Outfielder Shelby Barrett, pitcher Meagan Higginbotham and the entire infield of Shea Alexander, Latesia Davis, Ashton Lampton and Darby Bishop.
Youngsters Shaylon Farmer, Triniere Walker, Cassidy Blount and Shay Spivey were among other contributors this season and should help give Newton County a solid nucleus in the fall of 2014.
“This group has won an awful lot of ball games,” Chaney said. “But they expected to win. And I’m tickled to death they got them another state championship.”