Field renovations, high turnout have St. Aloysius softball riding a big wave

Published 12:00 pm Sunday, June 19, 2022

There have been a few times, St. Aloysius softball coach Savannah Buck says, when she takes time to just stop and stare at the field at the Betty Catherine Foley Hearn Softball Complex.

In her mind, she can see it being the scene of future victories and championship celebrations. In the present it’s becoming something even better — a home.

Several recent upgrades to the field have added a purple and gold touch to it. New windscreens and a sign on the scoreboard mark it as the home field for the Lady Flashes, and help provide a base of operations for a growing program.

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“It feels like home — finally,” Buck said. “It’s everything. When you have other teams coming in, you want to feel proud of what you’ve got and you want to feel comfortable where you are. You always hear ‘home field advantage’ and it’s true. When you work hard for it you’re going to work hard on it.”

The Betty Hearn Complex is owned by the city of Vicksburg, and leased by St. Al. The Vicksburg Girls Softball Association is based at the adjacent Halls Ferry Park fields, so the Hearn Complex is not used much other than by St. Al.

That has helped the Lady Flashes to make it their own. The press box and a utility shed are painted purple and gold. And now the new screens and signage around the ballpark have branded it even more.

“Thankfully, the city gives us that leeway to do what we want with it. We can’t be more thankful for them, overall,” Buck said. “We have a really good relationship with them. They’re awesome. They help us any way they can. It’s really nice to have them on our side.”

The upgrades were made possible by a recent $1 million gift from the family of John Murray Pinkston, Jr., to St. Aloysius’ athletic programs.

Buck was thankful for the help so far, and is hopeful to add a few more things like a new bullpen and some cosmetic touches around the field. A dream project would be cleaning up one of the other two fields at the Hearn Complex for use as a warm-up field.

“We wanted something that was simple, yet fit us. We weren’t trying to go over the top and showboat. We just wanted something clean, and fresh, and together,” she said. “I absolutely love it. I’ve just sat out here and stared at it. The other day I just pulled my car in and watched. It’s becoming something.”

The field’s makeover is fitting for a program that is also hoping to turn a corner in the upcoming season. St. Al reached the Class 1A semifinals in its final season as a member of the Mississippi High School Activities Association in the spring of 2015, but has not had a winning record since joining the Mid-South Association of Independent Schools later that summer.

Buck came aboard in 2019, when the team was at perhaps its lowest ebb. She had 12 players on the roster her first season.

“Four years ago we had 12 girls. We didn’t have a lot show up for practice. Coming from a college program into it, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we doing?’” Buck said. “I had to take a step back and think about how am I going to build this up? How am I going to build a softball culture?”

It’s taken a while, but Buck seems to have figured out a way. There are 29 players on the roster for the upcoming season. It’s enough that, for the first time in Buck’s tenure, the Lady Flashes will be able to field a junior varsity as well as a varsity team.

“Some of the girls on JV have never played softball before, but they have grown tremendously in the past couple months. I’m confident that they can throw, they can catch, they can field, they can do everything they need to do,” Buck said. “During spring fundamentals our attendance was through the roof. It makes me so happy to see that they want to get better, even if they’ve never done it before.”

Besides the players on the roster, there might also be plenty in the pipeline for years down the road. Buck and her players hosted the St. Aloysius youth softball camp this past week at the Betty Hearn Complex, and nearly 50 girls ages 12 and under participated.

Not all of them will go on to play for or even attend St. Al, but Buck was thrilled with what the turnout means for softball in Vicksburg generally.

“It’s exhilarating, it really is. Everybody seems excited for softball. We started it on World Softball Day, so we were really excited to see how many we would have turn out. It’s really uplifting to see that many girls want to grow and get better,” Buck said.

“Even if they’re not (going to St. Al), it’s good that they’re wanting to be out here and get better even for their programs,” Buck added. “We do have a lot of our girls out here for the younger groups, but overall it’s spread out between all the schools.”

Buck and the Lady Flashes will soon begin the run-up to the 2022 season in earnest. The MAIS plays its season in the late summer and early fall, and the opener is scheduled for Aug. 1 against Madison-Ridgeland Academy.

The next month will be spent practicing and playing a few scrimmage games, and getting ready to take the next step as a program.

“It’s amazing. I’m going to cry right now talking about it. It’s amazing to see how much it’s growing every day. I’m really proud of the work that everybody’s done,” Buck said. “More than anything, I’m proud that they’re seeing that they can be good at this and that this team is going to be what they want it to be.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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