Missy Gators christen ‘Softball Swamp’
Published 12:30 am Sunday, February 23, 2014
The smell of new lumber and fresh paint mixed with fresh air and the first hints of warm spring weather. Aluminum bats clinked and leather gloves slapped as a new softball season dawned.
It was a day for fresh starts. The St. Aloysius Lady Flashes welcomed a new coach to the dugout, while the Vicksburg Missy Gators did the same — and moved into said dugout. Vicksburg scored five runs in the bottom of the third inning to win the four-inning jamboree game 5-2, but the result was inconsequential. Saturday was more about working out some jitters, ironing out the kinks, and enjoying the payoff for an offseason of hard work.
“I absolutely love it. It feels good to not have to drive over (to Bazinsky Park) and play on this field beside our school. I feel comfortable,” said Vicksburg senior pitcher Faith Thomas, a Hinds Community College signee. “I think some of us were nervous, but we’re all happy about it. I was nervous that I almost started off with a loss. First game on our home field and I like having a win.”
The biggest debut belonged not to coaches Candice Reeder of St. Al or Brian Ellis of Vicksburg, but the field itself.
The formerly abandoned city field on Army Navy Drive was transformed in the offseason from an overgrown patch of vegetation and mud to the new home of the Missy Gators. “The Softball Swamp” on Saturday had freshly painted, bright green fences and netting behind home plate that was installed just last week.
Even as the first pitches of the season were being thrown, volunteers were still putting together the last few rows of bleachers. More work remains, including exterior fencing and an arched entryway. Most of the work has been done by the team, volunteers, and funded by sponsors’ donations.
“It’s incredible, because you can see it in my girls. I’ve been involved with them before, and you can see the outcome of what happens when you’re able to do something like this,” Ellis said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with me, or even our parents for that matter. It’s about these girls, and to see them say, ‘Hey, we get to play here.’ Especially with six seniors who see that it’s now a reality.”
Much like with The Softball Swamp, both coaches acknowledged there’s still some work to be done with the product on the field before the regular season starts next Saturday.
Ellis’ team struggled early before batting around and scoring five runs in the third inning. Thomas gave up two unearned runs and struck out five batters in 31⁄3 innings, but her teammates only had one hit in the first two innings and committed four errors in the field.
The rally that put Vicksburg ahead included six walks issued by St. Al pitchers, although Sydney Bufkin did deliver a two-run single that gave VHS a 3-2 lead.
“It gave me an opportunity to see where we’re at at this point. See the girls in true game situations. We’ve scrimmaged a little bit, played intrasquad, but when there’s a different color uniform on the other side it’s always a different thing,” Ellis said. “We’re new to each other. I was an assistant in slow-pitch and was able to work with them, but fast-pitch is a different game.”
St. Al, meanwhile, played without five seniors who were away on a school retreat. Three other players, including pitcher Avery Parman, played on St. Al’s basketball team and didn’t return to softball until late last week.
Freshman pitcher Sara Hudson threw two shutout innings before giving way to Parman, and Jordan McDaniel singled, reached on an error and scored a run. Reeder was happy with what she saw from the nine players she had available on Saturday.
“I had two seventh-graders that were starting that haven’t played in a while. I had a lot of girls who stepped up and played in situations they usually hadn’t been in, so I can’t complain at all,” Reeder said. “We gave up a lot, but I was very proud of them that they hung in there. I’m very confident going into the season.”
Reeder, who had previously been an assistant coach at St. Al and Vicksburg, said overcoming her own nerves during her debut as a head coach was as challenging as keeping her team on track.
“I was nervous. I coached (Vicksburg’s) seniors right now when they were in seventh grade with Amanda Yocum. She would tell me she would get really nervous and almost throw up before the games. I always used to laugh at her. And then I thought I was going to throw up before the game,” Reeder said with a laugh.