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SP Lady Tigers

The South Panola Lady Tiger coaches could not contain their emotions as their team walked away with a second consecutive state championship Tuesday. Coaching the team through this year are (left to right) assistant coaches Amy Fletcher, Laci Elliott and head coach Ashleigh Hicks.

Lady Tigers shut out Red Rebelettes in series championship 2-0, 2-0

By Myra Bean

The reality of a second straight state championship was a little too much for the South Panola Lady Tiger fastpitch softball team as the three coaches and the seniors were overcome with emotions following the victory.

The Lady Tiger team took the trip to Lyman near Gulfport to face Harrison Central. The team arrived in Gulfport Sunday afternoon. They went to the beach, which still bears the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, for a team photo and then returned to the hotel room to rest up for the next day.

Despite 80 degree humid weather with wind and dust blowing, the Lady Tigers retained their poise to shut out the Red Rebelettes 2-0.

“We deserve to be here,” said head coach Ashleigh Hicks after the game. “We are supposed to be on top. It proves to the girls they are on top and we are the best of the best. I didn’t want them to ever doubt it.”

South Panola ace pitcher Whitney Kiihnl went out in fine form, ending this game like she did last year’s against Oak Grove: with a strikeout.

Kiihnl retired her 394th batter to end the contest after pitching the complete game. She had 14 strikeouts on the day as she pitched a no-hitter. She allowed one walk.

The Lady Tigers scored one run in the top of the first inning Tuesday. Senior third baseman Haylei Plummer hit a double to left field to get on base with two outs. Senior catcher Casi Brooks, the number four batter, drove her home on a single RBI (run batted in) to left center field.

The scored stayed 1-0 until the top of the seventh inning. Hicks brought in reserve senior players Bethany Moore and Kayla Roden to bat in their final game as a Lady Tigers. They delivered.

“I had a dream that Kayla, Whitney and I would all be on base at the same time,” Moore said.

Her dream came true.

Kasey Kelsay was the lead off batter in the seventh and grounded out to third. Moore singled to right field on a 2-2 pitch with one out. Roden singled in the same spot on a 1-1 pitch and Moore advanced to second.

Senior Haley Hood grounded out to the pitcher to bring up second out.

Kiihnl walked to lead the bases. Moore, Roden and Kiihnl were waving to each other while on base waiting for Hillari Plummer to bat.

Plummer singled and drove home Moore for her third run of the year.

In the bottom of the seventh, Harrison Central’s injured starting pitcher Ana Agurirre grounded out to the pitcher. Agurirre sprained her ankle in the series against Brandon. She did not pitch. Up to bat second was third baseman Jasmine Shelton who struck out.

The final pitch and out went to pitcher Bethany Ladner on a 3-2 pitch.

Ladner pitched the complete game, had six strikeouts on the day, allowed seven hits and walked two.

Hitting for the Lady Tigers were Casi Brooks, 3-for-3, one double; Haylei Plummer, 1-for-4, one double, one walk; Hillari Plummer, 1-for-4, one RBI; Moore, 1-for-1; and Roden, 1-for-1.

The Lady Tigers ended the season 30-4. They have amassed a 65-8 record over the last two state championship years.

The senior players and coaches had comments after the game.

Haley Hood said, “It is an amazing feeling to be able to have two state rings and to know we are back-to-back state championships and that we went out on a bang in our senior year.”

Casi Brooks said, “It feels great. I am so glad we did it again. I am more emotional. It has been kind of a roller coaster feeling.”

Whitney Kiihnl said, “It is awesome. Like being a senior, it was really great. Just knowing it was our last time to wear a South Panola jersey, it was really emotional.”

Kasey Kelsay said, “It feels really awesome, just the confidence we had through all this season, knowing that we could do it and the coaching staff really helped us out.”

She summed it all up with the word “unbelieveable. I never thought that South Panola could get this far and we have just proved to a lot of people we can.”

Kayla Roden said,  “Supercalifraglistic expialadocious!”

Bethany Moore said, “Oh my God. I just cried because I was praying to God, my senior year, this last at bat to just let me get a hit and I did and it’s all because of Him. It’s undescribable. We have had a lot of great coaches like Mr. Preston (Lawrence) and Brother Damon (Plummer). They started us off, but coach Hicks is the one who came in here and gave us a lot of discipline and that is what we need. That’s what made us come together as a team.”

Coach Amy Fletcher said, “It means more than you know and I am just thankful to be a part. They did what we asked them to every day. I have never been around a group of girls more dedicated and more humble than these kids right here.”

Ellen Farrish has been on the team seven years. She said, “Unforgettable. Going into it I had a lot of pressure put on me and last week was not so good. Coming back this week and playing to the best of my ability, it’s amazing. I am so thrilled to be given this opportunity and coming out with a win.”

When did you know game was yours? “We never did honestly,” Farrish said. “I wasn’t afraid the whole time, but I knew we had to get more runs to get more cushion. I guess with that last pitch we knew it was over.”

Coach Laci Elliott coached her sister and her former team to the state championship.

She said, “It feels great. It feels good to have a coach like Coach Hicks to follow behind and do what she needs done. I am just excited. They have come a long way and been through a lot. It’s good to get them this far.”

Paw Paw Hicks is coach Hicks’ grandfather from Lucedale. He passes out candy to the girls to get them pumped up to play.

“I just love these girls and love the job they did this year,” he said. “I am so proud they won the state championship, back-to-back, two years in a row. They made Paw Paw proud today. I assure you. We are just proud of her and the team. Made as many games as we could.”

Haylei Plummer could not stop crying.

“We won two state championship and this the last game I will get to play with my sister,” she said. “Coach said with her last game it was her last rodeo. Every time I tried to do a play or every time I tried to do something I remembered it was the last time and tried to make it big.”

Hicks gathered the team together for one last group meeting after the game and said, “We came through some rough times in our season. We really came through I thought and showed up when it time for us to show us. Seniors, you are unforgettable, unforgettable. You are really more than ballplayers to me.”