Loyd Star looks to 2A title series after Leggett’s single sends Puckett home

Published 10:59 am Monday, May 15, 2023

It’s not traditional to play high school softball on a Sunday and it’s even less traditional to do so on Mother’s Day.

In the words of Milli Vanilli, blame it on the rain.

Loyd Star (27-5) and Puckett (29-7) needed to get their MHSAA 2A softball semifinal series concluded in prompt fashion after rain cancelled game one on both Thursday and Friday.

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The teams were able to meet at Puckett on Saturday, a 4-0 win for the Hornets.

And the unconventional Sunday date was picked for game two in the series as Puckett had graduation scheduled for Monday.

On a beautiful, sun-soaked night in front of a large partisan crowd, the Hornets took a thrilling 2-1 victory in an extra 8th inning to give their moms something major to cheer about and to put the team into the MHSAA 2A state championship series in Hattiesburg this week.

The Hornets will meet East Union (30-5) beginning on Tuesday at approximately 2 p.m. in Hattiesburg at the softball facility of the University of Southern Mississippi. The game will follow up the 1A series opener, which starts at noon.

Game two is scheduled for Wednesday at approximately 6 p.m. If a third game is needed, it’ll be played on Friday at a time to be determined later.

It was Loyd Star senior Alyssa Leggett, the daughter of coaches Scott and Denise Leggett, that ended the game with a one-out single in the bottom of the eighth.

As the international tiebreaker was in effect, LS junior Abby Burnette was placed on second base to start the inning and she motored in from there on Leggett’s drive to left field.

Loyd Star eighth-grade pitcher Layla Burt was lights-out in the circle as she struck out three, walked none, and gave up just three hits in eight innings. Burt threw an efficient 82 pitches in the win and the one run scored by Puckett was unearned.

The Hornets outhit the visiting Wolves from Rankin County 6-3 but did commit four errors on the day.

The scorebook was filled with zeros through much of the game, until Puckett struck to go up 1-0 in the top of the fourth inning.

Ansley Allen of Puckett started the inning by reaching via an error and then moved to second on a passed ball. She later scored on a single by Kinley Ainsworth to make it 1-0 for her team.

Puckett was kept from getting more when Loyd Star center fielder Carson Hughey made a catch for an out and then gunned down a runner at home plate who’d been trying to tag up.

“That was definitely a point where things could have gotten away from us,” said Loyd Star coach Scott Leggett. “The big thing that we’ve been stressing to our girls is to win the moment. They were able to focus and make the plays to get us out of that inning and that was huge.”

It was a sacrifice fly that would tie the game for the Hornets in the bottom of the fifth. Burnette lifted a ball to center field and Ainsley Gennaro scored from third.

Loyd Star had hoped for more in the inning, but Puckett pitcher Lila Murphy got a strikeout with runners on second and third to close out the frame.

And that’s how it sat, 1-1, with tensions and nerves and anticipation building and building until Leggett walked it off in the eighth.

In the top of the eighth, the Loyd Star defense was lights out. Third baseman Marley Britt made an outstanding play on a sacrifice bunt attempt to get the first out of the inning.

Burt then threw a rise-ball that was bunted into the air and caught by Leggett, the Loyd Star catcher.

Then, with Allen at the plate for Puckett, Burt used her change-up to go strike out the biggest bat in the Wolves lineup and set up the dramatic win in the bottom half of the frame.

Loyd Star coaches Scott and Denise Leggett won four state fastpitch state championships during their career during a long run at Scott’s alma mater of Bogue Chitto. Loyd Star, the alma mater of Denise, won the 2A state title in 2009.

With Alyssa set to play next season at Southwest Mississippi Community College, Scott and Denise are stepping away from the dugout next season as Scott will transition to the role of athletic director at the school.

To have this final season end in the state championship series is the stuff dreams are made of.

“Just getting to the championship series is such a big accomplishment,” said Scott Leggett. “I want the girls to realize that and to know that they’ve done something special just by getting to this point of the season. You want them to be able to soak it in, to see how much our community and fans are pulling for them and then when we get on the field Tuesday — we just want to play our game and win those big moments like we did on Sunday.”