VHS shedding losing image in fast-pitch|[02/18/08]

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 18, 2008

One of the hardest things to do while turning around a listless program is changing the culture surrounding it. Losing can be like a virus. Once it gets into a team’s system, it’s tough to get rid of.

The Vicksburg Missy Gators still have a long way to go before they’re considered among the best in Mississippi’s fast-pitch softball ranks. In eight years, the Missy Gators have had one winning season, going 7-5 in 2000. Last year, they were 6-12. But, slowly, the culture of losing is changing. Last year’s record was a marked improvement from 2006, when VHS won half that many. Of the 12 losses, four were by fewer than two runs.

Rather than just another losing season, it was the first step on the road to respectability.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“Everybody wants to be out here now with the new coach. Everybody’s out here for the team and not themselves,” senior center fielder Kaci Flaharty said. “In years past people were out here just to be on the softball team. Now they’re out here and they want to win.”

For the first time in a long time, the Missy Gators are thinking about a winning season — and not just this year. They lost only three seniors from last year’s squad and have just two more this season. Among the juniors in the starting lineup are pitcher Kristi Shelby and first baseman Claiborne Bryant, both of whom have started for several years.

Shelby also gives Vicksburg a solid arm to rely on. She’s in her fourth season as the team’s primary pitcher and has developed a few new tricks, coach Amanda Yocum said.

“She’s been working on some of her pitches. Her off-speed pitches are looking good,” Yocum said.

With the first steps of her rebuilding plan in place, Yocum has turned to phase two in her second season. In 2007, she stressed defense to help keep VHS in games and build confidence. This season, she’s focused on hitting during practice.

If VHS’ hitting comes around, it may have a chance to reach a major goal — a .500 season. A playoff appearance would be a bonus, and with a fairly evenly matched division it might not be too far-fetched to consider. Vicksburg will play two division games each against Ridgeland, Pearl, Florence and Yazoo County, none of which are expected to run away from the pack.

“With the division we’re in and the teams we’re playing it’ll be equally competitive. We won’t dominate anybody and I don’t think we’ll be dominated,” Yocum said.