Thursday, October 9, 2008
State’s best team – period
The Marshall Academy Lady Patriots traveled to Mississippi College in Clinton last week to compete in the Mississippi Private School Association Overall Championship Tournament. This tournament is for the top two teams in each of the three classes – A, AA, and AAA. Not since 1971 has Marshall Academy had an overall crown. This would be yet another first for the Lady Patriots softball program.
Marshall’s first contest would be against Presbyterian Christian School from Hattiesburg on Wednesday, Oct. 1. The Lady Bobcats were the number 2 team in Class AAA. They had earned the spot against Class AA’s top team, Marshall, by beating the number 2 team in Class A, Franklin Academy.
Marshall was slow coming out of the gate, allowing six strikeouts in the first three innings and only reaching base on a hit by Chelsey Gilliam. Marshall would strike first in the fourth on hits by Traci Rodgers and Heather Tomlinson. In the fifth inning, Marshall would add another run to the scoreboard on four consecutive hits by Mallary Covington, Robin Bryant, Lauren Alexander and Courtney Gibson.
In the bottom of the sixth with two outs, Covington would be hit by a pitch. This was enough of a crack in the door for Marshall to capitalize and score three runs on a hit by Alexander and three errors. Marshall would win 5-0.
Alexander recorded the win on the mound, allowing only two hits while striking out one behind the Lady Patriots’ incredible defense. This victory would allow Marshall to return on Saturday, Oct. 4, to play in a semi-final game against Madison-Ridgeland Academy, the number 1 Class AAA team.
Saturday, Marshall started out behind the eight ball with MRA winning the coin toss and choosing to be the home team. MRA would strike first, scoring two runs in the bottom of the second on a walk and two consecutive hits. MRA would add another run in the bottom of the third on one of the limited and few errors made by Marshall. This would set the tone and the tempo for the remainder of the game.
Top of the fourth with Marshall trailing by three, the bats would come to life. Marshall would score on hits by Traci Rodgers and Heather Tomlinson. Then the freshman, Chelsey Gilliam, let loose a long fly ball to put Marshall’s first run on the board. Marshall would add two more in the fifth when Mallary Covington reached on a walk. Bryant, Alexander, and Casey Gibson would add hits to put the runs on the board.
MRA would go ahead again in their half of the fifth inning scoring another run. The sixth inning was not productive for either team.
In the seventh inning, Marshall was at the top of the order and Lauren Alexander got a base hit. Casey Gibson tried a sacrifice bunt and popped out to the catcher. With one out and a runner on first, Alexander would steal second, Rodgers would get walked and Tomlinson would fly out to shallow center field not allowing the runners to move. With the weight of the world on her shoulders, the mighty freshman, Chelsey Gilliam, would come through yet again in the clutch on a base hit scoring Alexander from second.
“This would turn the tide and put the pressure on MRA,” coach Susan Rodgers said.
The Lady Patriots held their own in the bottom of the seventh with bases loaded to force the international tiebreaker.
In the international tiebreaker, the last batted out begins at second base. For Marshall it would put Courtney Gibson on second with Anna Roberts at the plate. Roberts would come through, moving Courtney to third on a ball put in play to the pitcher. With two outs, seventh grader Robin Bryant hit a routine ball to the pitcher and she overthrew first base allowing Gibson to score.
It would then be up to MRA to cross the plate for the tie or win. MRA’s number 8 batter would be on second with the number 9 hitter coming to the plate. The number 9 batter laid down a sacrifice bunt that Marshall bobbled, allowing runners to be at first and third with no outs and the lead-off hitter at the plate. The next batter was intentionally walked to load the bases in order to have a force-out at home. The number 2 batter grounded an inside pitch to the shortstop with an out recorded at home. Bases were still loaded with one out. The number 3 batter grounded back to Alexander on the mound for out number two with bases still loaded. The clean-up batter came to the plate and took a weak cut at a change-up that caught her off balance and popped out to Mallory Covington on third base.
“Ball game!” was the call made by the umpire. Marshall won and advanced to the championship game where it would have to be defeated two times for someone else to claim the title of overall champion.
PCS would defeat MRA in the loser’s bracket to earn its spot in the championship game against Marshall. PCS’s pitcher would stifle the Lady Patriots offense.
“We just could not get the bats going” Coach Rodgers said.
Marshall would fall short and lose to PCS 4-2 in the first contest. Scoring runs for Marshall were Courtney Gibson and Lauren Alexander on hits by Traci Rodgers and Heather Tomlinson.
Alexander allowed four runs, three of which were earned, on 11 hits while recording three strikeouts.
“I don’t know what happened to us. One minute we were on cloud nine and the next thing we know we were as low as a team could get” Coach Rodgers said after losing the winner’s bracket game.
After falling to PCS in the first contest, Coach Rodgers gave the girls a huge pep talk.
“I knew that we had everything we needed to win the championship,” she said. “We have all the tools any team could want. We have strong pitching in our senior Lauren Alexander; we are very strong and aggressive offensively; and we have the best defense in the MPSA.”
“I just told the girls that what makes a good team great is to be able to fight back from adversity and if they wanted this championship bad enough they knew what they had to do to get it.”
Marshall had lost the coin toss and would be the visiting team. Marshall was determined to leave it on the field and leave no doubt as to whom the champion would be. The Lady Patriots batted through the line-up in the top of the first inning, scoring five runs on hits by Alexander, Courtney Gibson, Rodgers, Tomlinson, Casey Gibson and Robin Bryant.
From the first pitch of the first inning to the last pitch is was no doubt which team was the most determined. The Lady Patriots would defeat Class AAA Presbyterian Christian School 10-3. Marshall Academy (32-5 on the season) would be crowned overall champions for the 2008-09 season.
“It doesn’t get any sweeter” said Rodgers, whose Lady Patriots have also won back-to-back state titles. “I am so proud of this team. We have had a tremendous season. I told our seniors – Lauren Alexander, Heather Tomlinson and Traci Rodgers – earlier in the year that we could go as far as they were willing to carry us. We just got on and enjoyed the ride.”
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