The Meridian Star
In his first year coaching the Neshoba Central softball team, Trae Embry won two state titles but wouldn't take all the credit.
“It's exciting knowing that you come in and put in a lot of hard work and it all pays off,” Embry said. “It's a tribute to your kids as they both play both sports and stay really focused.”
“We had an excellent year, the numbers speak for themselves. From August to the last day of fast-pitch, these kids are 58-11 … it's just a testament to them and how dedicated they've been.”
Neshoba topped off the year with a quick two-game sweep of East Central for the fast-pitch state championship. The Rockets outscored the Hornets 26-5, taking Game 1, 8-0, and Game 2, 18-5.
It was their only sweep of the post season, going to three games with Lake Cormorant and New Hope earlier in the Class 5A playoffs.
“We came into this championship series, we'd already faced good pitching in Lake Cormorant and New Hope,” Embry said. “We knew we would be teased at the plate. It all clicked with us and we were able to barrel some balls and put some timely hits together.”
In Game 2, a 10-run fourth inning erased a 2-1 deficit and put the Rockets up for good, leading to the second softball state title of the school year. They swept New Hope for the slow-pitch title in October.
Embry said that every team's goal is the state title, but after winning the first trophy, he and his team didn't necessarily expect to repeat this spring.
“We grew as a team during slow pitch, got familiar with each other. I knew we would be athletic and be able to complete,” he said. “I didn't know if we had a shot winning the state championship.”
“I try to get all my teams to look forward ... What we did in the past doesn't matter. We knew we had to play a whole new season. They really, really worked hard. Worked hard in the weight room, worked hard on the track and worked hard in the cages. They bought into it.”
But the doubling up wasn't the first of Embry's career. While coaching at Eupora, he led them to slow- and fast-pitch titles in 2005 and 2007. In 2006, the Eagles were fast-pitch champions.
When the opportunity presented itself to move into coaching, and teaching geography, at Neshoba, he jumped for the larger school.
“I wanted to try a bigger school and the opportunity came,” Embry said. “[My family and I] love it here. It's a move that's really paid off.”
As for coaching, though, it's the same old, same old.
“Kids are kids. You adapt to them, they adapt to you,” he said. “Both schools are great schools.”
With the competition level increased, and creating a winning program was the challenge he was looking for.
“I was in a comfort zone at Eupora,” he said. “I had a lot more kids to choose from.”
The Rockets will only lose two seniors -- Miranda Crenshaw and Jessie Hennington -- to graduation, so the majority of the state champions will return to the field next season.
Sophomore Hailey Lunderman finished the season batting .508, including a 2 for 3 with four runs score in Saturday's championship final.
“Hard work paid off,” Embry said.