Lady Bulldogs fall in season finale; Missy Gators clinch playoff berth

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 17, 2004

NATCHEZ &045; Vicksburg High earned its first playoff berth ever with a 13-4 win over Natchez High Tuesday.

But it was NHS head coach Leigh Anne Mason who got dunked.

It didn’t leave Mason exactly delighted, but the post-game shower put the wraps on the second fast-pitch softball season for the Lady Bulldogs and the first under Mason. The Lady Bulldogs finished the campaign with just two wins and none in Division 6-5A after not playing a division schedule last season.

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There’s plenty more for the returning players to learn &045; like coaches get dunked only after a win.

&uot;It’s just a matter of time &045; that’s what I keep telling myself, anyway,&uot; said Mason, who coached virtually the same team to a playoff spot in slow-pitch back in the fall. &uot;Last year they won one, and this year we won two. We’re getting a little bit better. The parents say we’ve done a lot better. We’ve had our ups and downs.&uot;

Just like in Friday’s game. The Missy Gators took a slight lead early before blowing it open in the later innings. The Lady Bulldogs couldn’t get anything going until the sixth inning, but by that time the score was 9-0.

Fast-pitch softball normally isn’t the high-scoring affair slow-pitch softball tends to be. That’s another thing that needs to be worked out.

&uot;We improved on our hitting more than anything,&uot; said Mable Green, who scored an inside-the-park homer in the seventh. &uot;Sometimes we hit, but our defense could have been better. It’s not big (of a change from slow-pitch). It’s like slow-pitch, but the ball is coming a lot faster and there’s more opportunities.&uot;

Then there’s the issue of pitching. The Lady Bulldogs had to virtually rely on senior Honda Griffin to pitch the entire season, and on Tuesday she walked 14 and hit two batters.

Mason had her hands sort of tied as far as relief &045; Krystal Arnold was out with an ankle injury and Sarah Weaver is a defensive standout at third base.

The Missy Gators took full advantage of those free passes &045; eight batters who were either walked or hit by a pitch came around to score.

&uot;We definitely know we’ve got to get some pitching,&uot; Mason said. &uot;Without a pitching coach, and I don’t know how to correct it. I’ve got (Arnold and Weaver) who are going to play in Ferriday (in the summer), but most of them are going to play in the slow-pitch league. Krystal and Sarah will pitch this summer.&uot;

Good pitching was on the mound for Vicksburg in senior right-hander Whitney Smith. She threw hard and kept the Lady Bulldogs pounding it in the dirt most of the game, and she finished with eight strikeouts and just two walks.

She held Natchez scoreless through five and allowed only three balls out of the infield. Natchez got three runs in the sixth.

&uot;She got hit in the back with the ball (in the sixth), and it hit right on the spine,&uot; Vicksburg head coach Laquitta Smith said. &uot;I think that played a part (in the sixth). She probably was tired at that point. She played real well defensive-wise.&uot;

The Missy Gators got one in the first and two in the second before getting taking advantage of some walks and errors in the fifth and sixth to break it open. They loaded the bases and scored when Jawanda Bingham was hit by a pitch and Kaci Flaherty walked.

Vivian Smith singled in a run for a 6-0 lead. In the sixth Shannon Arnold scored on an error before two more runs came across for a 9-0 lead.

Natchez got three in the bottom half, including two on a bases-loaded single back up the middle from catcher Cacey Champlin. Smith got a big strikeout just before that for the second out of the inning, but Champlin lined the second pitch she faced to center to score Weaver and Ashley Mitchell.

&uot;I’m looking for big things from her,&uot; Mason said of the eighth-grader. &uot;She’s really a good kid. She’ll do what you ask her to do and always give 100 percent. She’s an awesome kid. We don’t have anybody who hits it extremely hard. We’re lucky if we put two or three hits together.&uot;

Champlin could also find herself in the middle of a young team next season with the departure of six seniors from the fast-pitch team. Green may be the biggest loss since she was an anchor defensively at shortstop, but each one will leave a hole the team must fill in order to move the program along.

&uot;My plan is to get some freshmen in here,&uot; Mason said. &uot;If you have to struggle with freshmen for a couple of years, sooner or later they’re going to get better.&uot;

Said Green: &uot;They’ll have a pretty good team if more people come out. If they lose the attitudes and stay focused.&uot;