The Meridian Star
Choctaw Central softball coach Aaron Terrell finally got the ice water bath he avoided earlier in the week.
The Lady Warriors had the chance to douse him a second time after sweeping Nettleton in the Class 3A slow-pitch softball championship on Saturday afternoon at Freedom Ridge Park.
"They got me this time," Terrell said. "It feels great to finally win a state championship. We've been really close the last two years, couldn't get past the South State round. Got past the South State round this year and to come over here and win state, it's unbelievable."
In Game 1, Choctaw run-ruled the Lady Tigers, 14-4, in five innings. Two hours later, the Lady Tigers forced a full seven innings, but Choctaw won, 12-3, to clinch the school's first ever softball state title.
"We came out in both games really, really hot," Terrell said. "Scored a lot of runs the first couple innings, sort of got Nettleton in the hole to start with.
The Warriors have been working hard since Terrell joined the program five years ago and the head coach was left almost speechless about the improvement he's seen in his team. Earlier in the week, the Lady Warriors had to knock off the 2012 champions, Southeast Lauderdale, to get here. Playing Southeast in South State for the third year in a row was grueling, he said.
"When I first came, we won six games that year. Eight games the next year, and then we got going and this year we won 30 games and the state championship. It means a lot," he said. "We struggled at times this year, but here these last few weeks, we've really played good defense."
The defensive effort started with pitcher Taira Joe, who allowed a combined seven runs on 16 hits.
Hanna Hickman led the offense going 6-for-7 with three RBIs and five runs scored over the two game series. Lashayla McMillan went 4-for-6 with two RBIs and four runs scored.
"We've been working five years for it," McMillan said. "The past two years we were close. This year we got it. … It was amazing to come out here, hit. Start off quick, take the gold."
With the win, the Warriors finished the season at 30-5, a program best, and Terrell said his girls are hungry for more come fast pitch season.
"A lot of these kids will play fast-pitch and we've got a pretty good fast-pitch pitcher. Hopefully, we can get back here in fast-pitch," Terrell said.
After batting through the lineup in the second inning of Game 1 for eight runs, the Warriors repeated it to open Game 2.
In bottom of the first inning, Choctaw sent 16 batters to the dish, nine before the first out was tallied. Batting in the five-hole, Candace Jefferson hit a 2-run double. Jada Sockey followed with a 2-run single to clear the bases and take a 5-0 lead.
Three batters later, a walk to Joe reloaded them but Darien Tubby flied out to left center field for the first out. Hickman singled in a run and eventually came around to score the 10th run of the inning on an error by Nettleton's third baseman Kaleigh Tackett, 10-2.
The Lady Tigers regrouped with one run in the top of the second. Kimberly Monteith reached on an error in left center field and scored on Lauren Baldwyn's single up the middle as Nettleton's last major threat.
Joe held them to send just four batters to the dish in the third, fourth and seventh. In the fifth, she retired the side. A sixth inning lead off single by Taylor Smith was erased when Harley Tucker grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. The half inning ended on grounder hit toward Sockey in the gap between first and second for the out.
"Our pitcher did a really great job today and a lot of times, the pitcher gets overlooked in slow-pitch softball," Terrell said. "Nettleton has one of the best lineups in the state and she did a great job today … she's probably on of the best slow-pitch pitchers in the state, as far as putting the ball where she wants."
The Warriors added a run in the fourth inning and again the sixth, but couldn't get a third to force the run-rule and cut the game short.
McMillan said that because of the win and title, when everyone returns to school on Monday, Choctaw Principal Fred Hickmon will have his head painted like a softball.
"It's going to be pretty amazing to see that," she said.