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Group of girls practice softball in anticipation of summer league

Nine-year-old Cheyenne Morace connects with a pitch while catcher Raine Morace looks on Sunday afternoon at a youth softball practice hosted by coach Jesse Whitehead. Whitehead coached the group of approximately 11 girls last summer during the Vidalia Girls Softball League season and continues to work with them as they gear up for this summer. (Michael Kerekes \ The Natchez Democrat)
Nine-year-old Cheyenne Morace connects with a pitch while catcher Raine Morace looks on Sunday afternoon at a youth softball practice hosted by coach Jesse Whitehead. Whitehead coached the group of approximately 11 girls last summer during the Vidalia Girls Softball League season and continues to work with them as they gear up for this summer. (Michael Kerekes \ The Natchez Democrat)

VIDALIA — Spring hasn’t even officially arrived yet, but some local girls are already well under way in gearing up for the summer.

Approximately 11 girls who competed in coach pitch last summer in the Vidalia Girls Softball League make their way to the fields behind Vidalia Lower Elementary to practice softball on Sundays. Jesse Whitehead, who coached the girls last season in the coach-pitch age division, said the group loves softball too much to limit practices to the summer.

“We don’t know if we’ll be coaching all of them (this summer), but we developed a huge relationship with them last year,” said Whitehead, who is assisted by coach Will Cowan. “It doesn’t matter if we’re coaching them or not, we’ll still work with them.”

In fact, if the coaches forget to text the girls a reminder of practice, it’s the girls who remind the coaches.

“This group loves playing ball, and the parents love them playing ball,” Whitehead said. “(Saturday) night, we hadn’t sent the parents a text, and we had two girls call asking why they hadn’t gotten a text.”

Infielder Makayla Morace makes a throw to first base during practice. (Michael Kerekes \ The Natchez Democrat)
Infielder Makayla Morace makes a throw to first base during practice. (Michael Kerekes \ The Natchez Democrat)

Nine-year-old Cheyenne Morace said Whitehead was strict about practice when she and her teammates played for him last summer.

“He makes us practice every day, and that’s why we win every game,” Morace said.

The results don’t lie, either. As members of the Southern Flare coach-pitch team, the girls went 14-0 last summer, Whitehead said. All of that was possible, he said, because the group loved practicing so much.

“We would practice for eight hours on Saturday and Sunday, and we’d tell them we had to go, that we had work, and they were like, ‘What?’” Whitehead said. “There were days where we had one-hour games, and they were asking us (after the games) if they were done.”

While the girls may have been the queens of coach-pitch, this summer will present a new challenge as they move into the 9- and 10-year-old division. Instead of a machine pitching to them, the girls will have to adjust to other girls pitching to them.

“Pitching and developing pitchers are what we’re focusing on,” said Whitehead, who often sends his players to work with local pitching coach Glen Perilloux. “They’ll be having to hit the ball off another girl pitching instead of hitting that perfect pitch from the machine.”

Becca Cowan, 10, is preparing to be a pitcher this summer and said the hardest part about pitching is getting the ball in the right spot.

“You have to release the ball at just the right moment,” Cowan said.

Not all the girls are enjoying the adjustment from machine pitch. Makayla Morace, 9, said she strongly prefers hitting off a machine.

“I got hit (by a pitch),” Makayla said. “It hurts — bad.”

Defensively, since the girls have already put in so much time, they’re well ahead in that department, Whitehead said.

“We’re just working on little refreshers,” Whitehead said. “We have to work on stealing bases, because we weren’t allowed to do that last year, but as far as the fundamentals go, they’re polished.”

All the girls enjoy playing for Whitehead for different reasons. In Cowan’s case, it’s the extra stuff that “Uncle Cheeseburger” — her clever nickname for Whitehead — allows them to do.

“Uncle Cheeseburger is the best coach there ever was, because we get to go swimming in his pool,” Cowan said. “Plus, he lets us dress him up with makeup.”

Whitehead quickly clarified that he and the assistant coaches from the Southern Flare team promised the girls they could give the coaches makeovers after the season.

“It felt OK, I guess,” Whitehead said.

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