By Rocky Higginbotham / Special to The Star
The Meridian Star
Trae Embry took somewhat of a gamble when he accepted the softball
coaching job at Neshoba Central -- leaving his hometown and his comfort zone for a
One year later, it’s not looking like much of a gamble at all.
After leading the Lady Rockets to a slow-pitch state championship last fall, Embry and Neshoba completed a convincing sweep of East Central with an 18-5 win Saturday in the Class 5A Fast-Pitch State Championship Series.
Neshoba won Game 1 of the series here at Freedom Ridge Park 8-0 Friday night, then wrapped up its third fast-pitch crown and first since 2006 with another easy win Saturday.
“I always wanted to be at a bigger school,” Embry said of his move to Neshoba one year ago from Eupora -- where he coached for 13 years and won five state championships, three in fast-pitch.
“But I never dreamed this … you couldn’t have scripted it any better. It’s been an incredible first year.”
Neshoba completed the unique double with a roster which included just two seniors and a starting lineup Saturday sporting five freshmen and two sophomores.
“These kids were so eager to work and so eager to win,” Embry said. “It’s been a dream season for them.”
One of Neshoba’s biggest hurdles for the past decade has been trying to get past perennial powerhouse New Hope. But even after the Lady Rockets went to New Hope and pulled out a pair of playoff wins, Embry said he was worried.
“We were coming off two very emotionally-draining series,” he said, noting the Lady Rockets also had a gut-wrenching, three-game series against Lake Cormorant in the North State semifinals.
“So that was a one of our concerns … we were so emotionally drained after that series and after the New Hope series, you don’t know how you’re going to come out and play,” Embry said. “But we showed up, came to play and got the job done.”
Neshoba was razor-sharp in Friday night’s 8-0 win but was a bit slow out of the gate Saturday against East Central -- which had rallied from a game down to win its previous two postseason series.
Both teams scored once in the first inning, but the Lady Hornets were up 2-1 before Neshoba Central erupted for 10 runs in the fourth to take control.
“We really couldn’t have played much better Friday. (East Central) never really threatened Friday. Today, we were down and (East Central) came and battled. But we’re one of those streaky teams and once we got things rolling, we put up that 10-spot.”
East Central, which has won six fast-pitch crowns, scored three times in the bottom of the fourth to get back within 11-5. But Neshoba got two more in the fifth and five in the sixth to win by the 10-run rule.
Hailey Lunderman was 2-for-3 with a double and four runs score and Hannah Williams (double), Katlyn Duke (double, two runs), Kayla McKinion (three runs) and Jessie Hennington (two runs) all had two hits, as well. Madalyn McMahon doubled and scored three times, while Kaila Willis, Kayla Robertson and Ali Pike all had hits.
McKinion earned the win in the circle, and Neshoba got noteworthy defensive gems at Freedom Ridge from Lunderman, McMahon, Williams and Duke.
Lunderman -- who had six consecutive hits and reached base safely nine times in the series -- also scored from second base on a sac fly from Williams.
“What a phenomenal player she is and she couldn’t have played any better this weekend,” Embry said of his sophomore shortstop. “We got great pitching and defense, hit a lot of balls hard and she helped set the tone.
“Really, you couldn’t ask for anything more out of any of these girls. This year has been a great ride and I’m so very proud for all of them.”