By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
After a discouraging 15-11 loss in Game 1, it would have been easy for the Southeast Lauderdale softball team to lay down Saturday against South Pontotoc in the MHSAA Class 3A state championship series at Freedom Ridge Park. However, with their backs against the wall, the Tigers didn't give up, rallying in Game 2 before holding off the Cougars 9-6 in Game 3 to secure the first slow-pitch state championship in school history.
“The rule says you have to win two games,” Fanning said. “It doesn't say which two. It's a fun time in Southeast Lauderdale.”
Following a loss in Game 1, Southeast found itself facing elimination in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 2, down 14-11.
Three outs away from a second-straight championship loss, the Tigers rallied. Dori Timms and Magen Chatham got the inning started with back-to-back singles. After a fly out from Katie Dawson, Jasmine Bush stepped up to the plate and delivered a pinch-hit double to left to cut the lead to 14-12. Taylor Powell then walked to load the bases for shortstop Denisha Knight.
The senior came through, knocking a single up the middle to plate two runs and tie the game for the Tigers. Southeast would win the game two batters later, as South Pontotoc's shortstop was unable to trap a ground ball frim Nancy Williams that sped past her into the outfield, allowing the Tigers to score the winning run.
“That kind of gave us a little momentum heading into the third game,” Fanning said. “It was big for us heading into the final game.”
Southeast lost the coin flip in Game 3, forcing the Tigers to bat first in the deciding game. After both teams went scoreless in the first inning, South Pontotoc took advantage of costly Southeast errors, as the Cougars jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning.
“We made two errant throws,” Fanning said. “They really capitalized on that, and scored four runs. I thought Lord have mercy, we are going to throw this thing away.”
Southeast, however, battled back for four runs of their own, capitalizing off a two-run home run from Williams followed later in the inning by a two-out, two-run double from Timms.
After blanking the Cougars in the bottom of the third, the Tigers jumped out on top, as Lauren Yeager lifted a two-run double to put Southeast on top 6-4.
The Tigers extended the lead to 9-6 heading into the seventh inning, just three outs away from a 3A state title. South Pontotoc started the inning, shooting a grounder down the third-base line. However, Williams came up big for the Tigers, snaring the grounder and hurling it to first in time to get the first out and prevent the Cougars from getting any momentum.
Three batters later, Southeast recorded the third and final out of the inning, and completed the unlikely comeback to claim the title.
Twenty years removed from his first slow-pitch title in 1992 with Newton County, Fanning is now back on top of the Mississippi slow-pitch community, giving the Tigers their first slow-pitch championship.
For Fanning this title is every bit as sweet as his previous two.
“It's fun,” Fanning said. “I'm glad to see them be a winner, because that's what it is all about. That's the reason why we went out there Aug. 1. We thought we were going to win, and tonight we did.”