By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
Wanting to find something positive to tell his players Saturday as he handed out runners-up medals, Enterprise coach Davey Dewitt didn't have to look hard.
While the defending state champion Bulldogs were swept 13-7 and 9-5 by Hamilton in the MHSAA Class 2A slow-pitch softball state championship series at Freedom Ridge Park, there are still positives for Enterprise to take heading into next season. Mainly, outside star third baseman Hayleigh Harper, these same Bulldogs will be back to try and take another shot at a state championship.
“We've got everybody coming back besides her and I'm really excited,” Dewitt said. “I'm really excited about our future and where we're going.”
The one loss will be big, though. Harper anchored the Enterprise lineup from the No. 3 spot and again led the Bulldogs in the championship series against the Lions. She had three hits total on the day, including two hits in the opening game while also drawing a bases-loaded walk. In the sixth inning of Game 1 with Enterprise trailing 9-5, Harper unloaded with a two-run home run that easily cleared the 250-foot fence in center. Her sixth-inning single in Game 2 also drove in a run. Two of her three outs were long fly balls that backed Hamilton hitters up to the fence.
However, the Bulldogs gained experience this year playing without Harper as she missed the start of the season with an ankle injury. Then, they swept East Webster in the South State championship series with an all-underclassmen lineup as Harper was only available to pinch hit following a morning trip to the emergency room. That win should also provide some confidence for Enterprise.
“As a group, we've had a lot of stuff happen to us this year,” Dewitt said. “We've overcome a lot and we've had a lot of adversity and battled through it. We started the year without her and the other night we played without her, and won without her.
“But she plays a big part in our lineup and in this game, in our game.”
Without Harper, the Bulldogs will look to lean on rising seniors Harley Smith, Blakely Riley and Emmalee Roberts. Smith, who has pitched for the Bulldogs throughout her career including trips to the state championship series in 2009, 2011 and this year and one state crown. She also had four hits in the title series, driving in two runs with a first-inning double in Game 1. Riley had two hits and scored four runs in the series, and also had a huge hit to finish off the sweep of East Webster for South State. Roberts had two hits and an RBI against Hamilton as well.
From there, Enterprise gets even younger with rising juniors Brittany Hagwood, Lauren Smith, Katie Jo Riley, Kaleigh Russell, Jess Turner and Krissy Monsour all returning in the lineup as well. Jordan Goodman, a rising sophomore, also got a hit against Hamilton in two at-bats, and classmate Delaney Davidson filled in ably for Harper at third base in the South State series. Then there is rising freshman Ashleigh McGowin, who provided a big bat in key moments. The slugger hit a pinch-hit home run against Taylorsville in the second round and then had four hits and a walk in five plate appearances against East Webster before going 0-for-2 on Saturday.
“I don't want to be overconfident but we do have a good shot at getting back here,” Dewitt added. “The experience you get, even for the young girls just sitting there in the dugout, just the experience coming over here and that big-game experience, not a lot of people get that and it's a huge payoff.”