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Lady Panthers advance in slow-pitch playoffs

The Brookhaven High Lady Panthers travel to Meridian Thursday for a 4 p.m. playoff matchup in the MHSAA slow-pitch state playoffs.

The winner of this third-round game will meet the winner of the Wayne County-North Pike game that will also be played tonight.

Meridian moved to the third round after beating Warren Central 9-3 and 10-1 on Tuesday night.

Brookhaven also got the sweep on Tuesday night, with 14-4 and 15-5 wins over West Harrison.

West Harrison actually jumped up 3-0 on BHS in the top of the first inning of game one before the Lady Panthers blew the Lady Hurricanes away with a nine-run second inning.

In game two, the Lady Panthers would gain a 1-0 lead to begin the game before a West Harrison three-run home run staked the Lady Hurricanes to a two-run lead after one inning. West Harrison grew that lead to 4-1 before an eight-run inning in the third put BHS in complete control.

The big inning started with a standup double by Angel Wilkinson. Wilkinson would score later in the inning on a West Harrison throwing error.

Later in the inning, an intentional walk of Kat Wallace would load the bases before another West Harrison error scored two more runs. West Harrison would also walk in a run in the inning.

Wilkinson would do further damage in the inning, as BHS batted once around the order to put her up again in the third. Another double by Wilkinson would score two RBIs, as the bases were full of Lady Panthers. Layla Woodall also had an RBI single in the inning.

With BHS holding a 10-run lead in the fifth inning and three outs away from ending the game, it looked like West Harrison had a rally started when they loaded the bases with no outs.

Lady Panther pitcher CeAria Henderson would settle into a groove, though, as she retired the next three West Harrison batters to end the game after five complete innings.

There may not be a position in all of high school athletics like the job of being a pitcher in slow-pitch. The goal is to get the other team to hit the ball, but for them to keep it in the ballpark while doing it.

BHS coach Mandy Vinson says temperament is a huge part of playing the position.
“Body language is huge, everyone feeds off the pitcher and you’ve got to stay level even when the other team is hitting the ball hard,” said Vinson.

In game two, when West Harrison was playing their best ball, Henderson started to look like she was getting frustrated. The visiting dugout was chanting for her to throw another ball and the bases were juiced with Lady Hurricanes.

Wallace, the lone senior on the team, stepped to the rubber and offered Henderson encouragement. After a few quick words Henderson cracked a smile and BHS was on their way to working out of the inning. 

“Kat told me to focus on the next pitch and to block out the noise,” said Henderson.

The win put Brookhaven deeper in the playoffs than they have been in a long time. BHS played for the state championship in slow-pitch in 2009 — since then, the Lady Panthers have not been beyond the first round.

The team celebrated by dumping a cooler of ice water on Vinson, who then had to wait to regain her breath before addressing the team in a post-game huddle.

“The girls stayed positive after getting down early,” said Vinson. “We knew we’d hit the ball well and get those runs back in our park.”

Story by Cliff Furr