By Rocky Higginbotham / Special to The Star
The Meridian Star
Justin Chaney doesn’t want to sound like a sandbagger, but he admittedly had his doubts about how far his 2012 Newton County slow-pitch softball team could go after the Cougars lost half their lineup from last year’s 35-0 team.
At the same time, not many people expected the Cougars to win 32 games and reach an eighth straight state championship series. But they did, falling 2-1 in a best-of-three series to Corinth Saturday in the MHSAA Class 4A state championship series at Freedom Ridge Park.
“I told the girls all good things,” Chaney said Saturday. “Hey, we went 32-3 playing in central Mississippi in what we call softball heaven.
“Yes, I’m disappointed that we didn’t win. I don’t like to lose and neither do these girls. But as a whole, you have to look back and be extremely proud of this season.”
Five seniors graduated from Newton County’s 2011 state championship team – including the team’s top four hitters in the lineup and all of them either four-or-five-year starters.
But the five starters who returned – Shea Alexander, Ashton Lampton, Meagan Higginbotham, Darby Bishop and Savannah Gates – were joined by a host of Cougars in 2012 who were chomping at the bit to get in the lineup.
“A lot of our girls who stepped in this year could have started for most anybody last year,” Chaney said. “And that’s what you want. You want to try to build a program and have kids ready to step in; ready to step up when it’s their turn.
“And that’s what this group did. They said ‘Coach, it’s my turn’ and those five or six had a tremendous year.”
Juniors RoNeisha Brown and Mary Snowden and sophomore Latesia Davis played big roles after contributing heavily in 2011, while junior catcher Hannah May and sophomore outfielder Shelby Barrett had strong finishes to 2012, as well. Juniors Ashley Gressett and Lindsey Savell and freshmen Cassidy Blount, Shaylon Farmer and Triniere Walker all saw heavy action this season.
“We played a lot of people and juggled a lot of folks early,” Chaney said. “And again, some of them probably could have started for a lot of other teams.
“Hey, this is a great team and I’m proud of them. But you also have to sit back and look at the fact that we only had one senior on this team,” he said. “Softball at Newton County is in pretty good shape for while.”
All 10 Cougars who started Saturday were underclassmen; and all of them have had some role in the past three Newton County slow-pitch teams which have gone 94-10 and won two state championships – including a run of 68 straight wins which spanned parts of all three seasons.
“Corinth had a lot of seniors on that field, but we had a lot of experience,” Chaney said. “We had girls out there who have won an awful lot of ball games and that makes a difference. They know what we expect of them in the program and they work hard and they expect to win.”