Kent achieves Grand Slam at Copiah Academy
Copiah-Lincoln Community College softballcoach Allen Kent smiles, speaks softly and carries a big stick.Kent was grinning wider than usual this week after signing a groupof outstanding high school softball players.
On Tuesday, the thunder rolled and heavy rain pelted the roof atCopiah Academy in Gallman. In the school’s cozy library, there wereenough smiles and happy faces to light up the room, even if a powerfailure happened to strike the area. Four talented Lady Colonelswere signing softball scholarships with the Co-Lin Lady Wolves.
Family and friends gathered to share the special moment. Theyexchanged hugs and visited while savoring bites of a large sheetcake decorated in blue and red for the occasion. It listed thefirst names of pitcher Meghan Johnson, catcher Kacie Berry andoutfielders Morgan Brown and Elizabeth Cliburn.
Kent referred to the quadruple signing as a grand slam. “I’ve beenwatching these girls for many years now and we’re glad they decidedto be part of ourprogram. Not only havethey enjoyed success in school but they have made steadyimprovement playing travel ball during the summer.
“We are excited to sign these girls,” Kent added. “We have a had asuccessful history with Copiah girls.”
Copiah headmaster Carol Rigby beamed with pride and applauded theceremony.
For sure, these four Lady Colonels are a special group. They wereinstrumental in helping lead Coach Terry Bauer’s team to the MAISClass AAA State Championship and a 39-6 record last October.Remarkably, the rest of the starting lineup consisted of freshmenand eighth graders.
Bauer, in his 13th year at Copiah, has produced an outstandingprogram. The Lady Colonels have won 20 or more games in each of those12years. Certainly, the future looks bright.
“These four girls have been a crucial part of our program since theseventh grade,” said Bauer. “They provided a lot of leadership forus.”
Interestingly, all four of them have their sights on medicalcareers.
Johnson, a 5-foot-4 right-hander, fashioned a 19-4 record. She hada 1.88 ERA, striking out 56 batters and 2alking 37 in 130 innings.She has several pitches in her arsenal and is an excellentdefensive player. She batted .374.
“It’s an honor to go on and play at the college level,” saidJohnson. She wants to become a pediatrician.
Berry, a 5-7 catcher, is a natural athlete, inheriting skills fromher father, Jeff, and mother, Tracy. They both played ball at CA.Jeff, a 1982 CA graduate, played quarterback at Co-Lin and laterrunning back at Ole Miss.
Kacie also plays the post position in basketball. As a softballplayer, she batted .362, with 23 RBIs.
She plans a career in nursing.
Cliburn, a 5-2 outfielder with blazing speed, batted .381. Sheplans a career in physical therapy.
Asked about her team’s championship season, Cliburn said, “It was alot of fun. Everyone worked very hard.”
She missed much of the season with an ankle injury but providedplenty of everyday encouragement at practice. She got to play thelast six games of the season.
Brown, a 5-2 blond outfielder with fast feet, plans a career inultrasound. She batted .407 and drove in 24 runs. Like Cliburn, sheis a slapper who swingsfrom the left side of the plate.
Her father, Michael Brown, watched the signing ceremony viavideophone from Kuwait. He is a member of the Mississippi NationalGuard now on duty in that oil-rich, Middle East country.
Bauer and Morgan’s dad exchanged pleasantries over the phone. Brownhas been a devoted supporter of the program.
Cellphones have changed the world of communications in the last 10years.
The sun shone brightly Wednesday but a gusting, northerly wind madeit feel a lot colder in the shadows as the ground slowly dried out.In Wesson’s library, Makenzie Rials was signing her future with theLady Wolves. She plans a career in nursing.
Rials, a 5-6 right-hander, posted a 10-5 record last year. Shebatted a strong .358 for Coach Jackie Johnson’s Lady Cobras. Shealso plays basketball at Wesson, with her twin sister, Madison. Herolder sister, Summer, is a Southern Miss cheerleader.
“God has blessed me with this opportunity to play softball atCo-Lin,” said Makenzie. “I’m grateful for this.”
An all-round athlete, Rials is the daughter of Steve and DanaRials. She also serves as a cheerleader and is an honor rollstudent. She is a children’s church volunteer at Wesson FirstBaptist.
Her mother, the former Dana Robinson, was a standout basketballplayer and runner at Bogue Chitto.
“Mak works hard as a pitcher and she has a variety of pitches,”said Coach Johnson. “She is the first fastpitch player from Wessonto sign with Co-Lin.”
Kent praised Rials’ softball skills. “Mak has a strong arm and ashe has very good speed in the outfield. She’s athletic and canhelp us in several areas.”
Kent said he expects to sign more Wesson players in the future.”Coach Johnson has turned the program around and we hope she cancontinue to develop girls that can compete in our league.”
Johnson played on Kent’s 2006 squad that finished third in theNJCAA National Tournament. His teams have made the playoff s 7 ofthe last 9 years and have been ranked nationally 8 years. The LadyWolves have won 3 state championships and were national runners-upin 2008, the highest finish of any Co-Lin athletic team.
Expected to sign with the Lady Wolves Friday is Beth Fortenberry,an infielder from Natchez Cathedral.
Obviously, good players help coaches achieve high levels ofsuccess.
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