A high pitch looks inviting to Katlyn Duke of Neshoba Central.
A high pitch looks inviting to Katlyn Duke of Neshoba Central.
RIDGELAND - The Neshoba Central Lady Rockets swept Wayne County and repeated as state champions, capturing the Class 5A-6A slow-pitch softball title here Saturday at Freedom Ridge Park.

The Lady Rockets defeated Wayne County, the same team they beat in the finals last year, 10-8 and 10-3. The Lady Rockets concluded their season with a 34-1 record.

"Record-wise, this is the best team I have ever had," Lady Rockets Coach Trae Embry said. "They are a great group of girls. They came to practice every day and worked hard.

"We only had one loss and that's almost unheard of in slow-pitch softball. Every team is going to be off a few games during the season, either on defense, pitching or hitting. We had our off days in one phase of the game but we were able to overcome it by playing better in other areas. And our only loss came against a great team in Choctaw Central which also won a state championship."

Embry, now in his second year at Neshoba Central after moving here from Eupora, has coached teams to eight state championships - four in slow-pitch and four in fast-pitch. He has now coached three straight Neshoba Central teams to three state championships (two slow-pitch, one fast-pitch) and it won't be long until his attention turns to fast-pitch in the fall.

"We are getting ready to switch over. It won't be long," Embry said. "Our success here is a credit to the girls, the parents, the community support and the support we get from the administration. It takes everyone getting behind a team to be successful."

Wayne County jumped out to 2-0 in the first inning, thanks to a rare fielding error that kept the Lady War Eagles alive.

The Lady Rockets came back with four runs in the third inning. Hannah Williams knocked in one run and Katlyn Duke brought in two. Later, Madalyn McMahon brought in a run with a fielders choice and Neshoba Central led 4-2.

Wayne County battled back with five runs in the top of the fourth to go up 7-4. That's how it stood until Neshoba Central answered with five runs in the bottom of the fifth to take a 9-7 lead.

Hailey Lunderman and Williams both got on base with a single. Duke brought in Lunderman with a single. Kayla Robertson was intentionally walked, one of four times during the game, and the bases were loaded. Then Meshay Jimmie connected on a triple that sailed over the outfielder's head and the Lady Rockets took the lead. Jimmie later scored and Neshoba Central led 9-7.

Wayne County scored in the top of the sixth and Neshoba Central answered with a run in the bottom of the sixth when Williams got on with a single and scored. There might have been more runs but a close call ended the momentum. Neshoba Central held on in the top of the seventh to claim the victory.

Both teams finished with 15 hits and Mallory Tucker was the winning pitcher. Duke hit a triple, a double and a single; Lunderman finished with a double and a single; Williams and Tucker both had three singles; Jimmie hit a triple and a single; and, Jenna Pigg and Maggie Peebles both had a single.

"We didn't start off well but I told them it didn't matter," Embry said. "We kept our composure. I told them let's get through this game, win the next one and we'll be state champions."

Neshoba Central scored four runs in the first inning of the second game and never looked back. Lunderman led off with a single and scored on Robertson's double - her only at bat in which she was not intentionally walked.

Duke got on with a single and scored on Jimmie's two-RBI triple. McMahon knocked in Jimmie on a fielder's choice.

In the third inning, Williams got on base by way of a fielders choice and scored when Duke hit a double. Jimmie later knocked in Duke and the Lady Rockets led 6-0.

Duke hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning, bringing in Lunderman who got on with a double and Neshoba Central led 8-0.

Wayne County got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the sixth. Then Neshoba Central scored its final two runs in the top of the seventh when Pigg and Lunderman crossed the plate.

The Lady War Eagles came across with two runs in the bottom of the seventh and the game was over.

Both teams finished with 11 hits and Tucker was the winning pitcher. Lunderman finished with four hits, including a double; Duke had a home run, a double and a single; Jimmie hit a triple; and Peebles, Williams and Robertson had one hit.

"We beat a very good team in Wayne County," Embry said. "They were well coached and have good players. They played us tough in the first game and played well in the second game."

Last year, the Lady Rockets won game one 13-6 and then claimed game two 2-1 in the Class 5A finals. They finished with a 27-5 record.