The one theme consistent with this year’s Premier Preps of East Mississippi softball team is championship-caliber play. Of the 11 players selected this year, 10 played on teams that competed for state titles. Seven players return as selections from last year, while two make their Premier Preps debuts. Two players return from the 2017 team.
Throughout the different athletic seasons, coaches nominate players from their respective teams, and The Star’s sports staff selects from the pool of nominees.
Here are six numbers that help define this year's team:
The six teams represented this year combined for 145 wins and three state championships, as Neshoba Central, Philadelphia and Newton County claimed their respective state titles. Neshoba Central posted a Premier Preps-best 33 wins. Newton County racked up 29 wins, while Enterprise finished with 28 wins. West Lauderdale ended the year with 20 victories. Philadelphia closed the season with 18 wins, and Choctaw Central tallied 17 wins.
2: Premier Preps newcomers
Enterprise’s Maycee Knight, and Newton County’s Shelby Anderson, make their Premier Preps debuts. Knight played an instrumental role in the Lady Bulldogs’ run to the MHSAA Class 2A state championship series, while Anderson pitched a Game 1 win in the Class 4A championship series to help lead Newton County to its first fast-pitch title since 2015.
Enterprise’s Hannah Herrington’s 37 RBIs are a Premier Preps best. Newton County’s Shelby Anderson and Neshoba Central’s Aspen Wesley ended the year with 36 RBIs apeice. Newton County’s Brittany Thomas and Neshoba Central’s Tori Henderson each tallied 33 RBIs. Choctaw Central’s Tia’Rain Saunders plated 32 Lady Warrior runners. Enterprise’s Maycee Knight accumulated 28 RBIs, and West Lauderdale’s Lexie Smith posted 22 RBIs. Neshoba Central lead-off batter Tenly Grisham posted 14 RBIs.
6: College-signed players
Six Premier Preps players have signed to play softball beyond the high school ranks. Neshoba Central’s Aspen Wesley will pitch next season at Mississippi State. Philadelphia’s Tyesha Cole will continue her athletic and academic careers at Jones College. The Enterprise Lady Bulldog duo of Hannah Herrington and Maycee Knight will play at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and Jones College, respectively. Newton County teammates Shelby Anderson and Brittany Thomas will remain teammates at East Central Community College. In addition to these signees, juniors Lexie Smith (West Lauderdale) and Tia’Rain Saunders (Choctaw Central) have committed to play for Southern Miss and Jones College, respectively.
.492: Team batting average
Philadelphia’s Tyesha Cole posted a team-high batting average at .544. Eight Premier Prep selections ended with a .400 average or higher: West Lauderdale’s Lexi Smith (.478), Enterprise’s Hannah Herrington (.467), Neshoba Central’s Tenly Grisham (.441), Neshoba Central’s Tori Henderson (.417), Neshoba Central’s Aspen Wesley (.409), Newton County’s Shelby Anderson (.405), Philadelphia’s Nia Luckett (.403), Enterprise’s Maycee Knight (.400). Choctaw Central’s Tia’Rain Saunders batted.389, and Newton County’s Brittany Thomas batted .368.
Premier Preps arms this year accounted for 846 strikeouts. Neshoba Central’s Aspen Wesley paced the group with 335. Philadelphia’s Nia Luckett tallied 167; Newton County’s Shelby Anderson struck out 132 and West Lauderdale’s Lexi Smith posted 115 strikeouts. Newton County’s Brittany Thomas ended the year with 60 strikeouts, and Enterprise’s Hannah Herrington finished with 37 in 38 innings pitched.
2019 Premier Preps of East Mississippi softball team
Why she’s here: Knight was more than just a consistent glove in Enterprise’s infield. The Jones College signee finished her senior season with a .400 batting average to help lead the Lady Bulldogs to an appearance in the MHSAA Class 2A state championship series. Knight tallied 41 runs, 36 hits and 28 RBIs.
Why she’s here: Not only is Grisham the youngest member of this year’s team, she was also Neshoba Central’s surest bet to get on base this season. The freshman posted an eye-popping .532 on-base percentage. Grisham stole 38 bases and scored 43 runs, and she finished the year with a .441 batting average.
Why she’s here: Wesley led Neshoba Central to a state championship in each of her six years on the varsity squad. She sported a .23 ERA and tallied 335 strikeouts in 154 innings pitched this year. She has signed with Mississippi State. Wesley batted .409 with a .457 on-base percentage and hit four home runs to go with 36 RBIs.
Why she’s here: Herrington, who will play at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, went 8-2 as a starter. She yielded just seven earned runs over 38 innings and ended the season with a 1.27 earned-run average. She hit .467 on the year with 37 RBIs as the Lady Bulldogs finished as Class 2A runners-up.
Why she’s here: Luckett was Class 2A’s most dominant pitcher this season, leading Philly to the 2A state title. Luckett held Enterprise scoreless in Games 2 and 3 en route to winning her fourth championship overall. She pitched every game for Philly and added a .403 batting average and seven home runs on offense.
Why she’s here: Cole provided senior leadership for a youthful Philadelphia team. Cole scored five runs and had five hits in the Lady Tornadoes’ state championship series. She launched 10 home runs and posted a sparkling .544 batting average for the season. She will play at Jones College next year.
Why she’s here: Smith helped West Lauderdale reach the third round of the Class 4A playoffs. She batted .478 with four home runs and nine doubles. From the circle, she compiled a 1.11 ERA and accumulated 115 strikeouts. The Southern Miss commit was selected First-Team All-Region 4-4A for the third time of her prep career.
Why she’s here: Thomas earned the championship-clinching pitching win against Tishomingo County. She tallied 60 strikeouts and posted a 12-4 record in 93 innings pitched. Thomas ended the year with a .386 batting average and she recorded 30 RBIs and 10 doubles. Thomas will continue her career at East Central CC.
Why she’s here: Anderson was the other half of a dominant pitching combo for the Lady Cougars this year. She beat Tishomingo County in Game 1 of the 4A title series. Anderson recorded 132 Ks over 101 innings with a 12-3 record. Offensively, she batted .405 to go with 36 RBIs and 11 doubles. Anderson will play at East Central CC.
Why she’s here: Henderson smacked a walk-off double in Game 1 of the MHSAA Class 5A championship series to send the Lady Rockets to victory. She ended the season with a .417 batting average and a stellar .491 on-base percentage to go with 33 RBIs, 28 runs, 18 stolen bases and three home runs.
Why she’s here: Saunders, a Jones College commit, helped Choctaw Central to a Region 5-3A title, a 3A South State title and an appearance in the MHSAA Class 3A state championship series. The All-Star fast-pitch selection batted .389 and ended the season with a .971 fielding percentage.