HATTIESBURG — As the game wore on, frustration began to build in the Choctaw Central dugout.

The Lady Warriors and South Pontotoc were knotted at 1-1 Tuesday in Game 2 of the MHSAA Class 3A fast-pitch state championship series. After tying it in the bottom of the fourth courtesy of a Melanian Jimmie RBI single, Choctaw Central and the Lady Cougars kept trading scoreless innings before eventually going into extras.

Choctaw Central was already down 1-0 in the series, and Neera Bell was pitching a no-hitter. The Lady Cougars scored a run in the top of the ninth off a squeeze play, which put Bell in danger of having a nine-inning no-hitter and still taking the loss. Ahnaya Williams stepped into the batter’s box with runners on second and third and two outs, her team’s season in the balance.

If there was a lesson to take away from Game 2, it’s that momentum can change with one swing of the bat. Williams doubled down the left field line to score Tia’Rain Saunders and Kodi Jimmie to take a 3-2 win and send the series to a decisive Game 3 Tuesday evening. The frustration of the Choctaw Central dugout changed to jubilation as Williams’ teammates rushed to pile on her near second base.

“At first I didn’t feel confident, because I couldn’t get any of my hits to go through,” Williams admitted. “I don’t know, the last (pitch) just came to me.” 

When the ball left her bat, Williams said she didn’t know if it would be enough to score the two runs. Once both runners crossed home plate, though, Williams said the feeling was one of the best she’s experienced as a softball player.

“There was a lot of excitement,” Williams said with a chuckle.

Choctaw Central head coach Mercedes Cotton said all she could do when Williams hit the ball down the line was wave her runners home. It took her a second for the emotions to set in.

“I think my heart just stopped,” Cotton said. “I don’t know if I felt anything. All I saw was it land, and I just told the runners, ‘Go! Go!’ There was no stopping.”

The walkoff win not only assured Choctaw Central a Game 3, but it also made Bell the winning pitcher after she tossed nine-inning no-hitter. Bell surrendered just one earned run on five walks and also struck out three.

“She’s worked hard all year long,” Cotton said. “She’s shown (this ability), and I’m very proud of her. She’s determined, she’s disciplined, and I told her just to work her corners and get them to swing, and I think she was ready for this game.”

Bell admitted the nerves began to kick in as the game wore on, but she was confident her teammates would back her up, which allowed her to get through nine innings without giving up a hit.

“I was feeling kind of scared, but I just pitched my game and trusted my defense behind me,” Bell said. “I feels great (to have a no-hitter).”

Leia Phillips, Tyra Billy, Jimmie and Williams all had one hit apiece for Choctaw Central, and Saunders was 1-for-1 with a triple and three walks.

Choctaw Central rose to 17-17 with the Game 2 win.

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