WHITE HALL — Approximately two weeks before the end of the regular season, White Hall’s softball team was riding the gentle wave of success, easing through its schedule, seemingly having everything under control.
But on the inside, the Lady Bulldogs were falling apart. Team chemistry was flailing. The family was being torn to shreds. It started with a loss here, then another there. By the time the Lady Bulldogs suffered a run-rule setback to crosstown and 5A-Southeast Conference rival Watson Chapel on April 26, the ship was going down fast and it appeared the talented Lady Bulldogs would play themselves out of a state title run.
“Toward the end of the season I think we got a little ahead of ourselves,” said White Hall senior Ashley Wheelus. “I think we felt like we already had it because we had been winning and winning and winning. I think we felt like we didn’t have to work hard.”
An emotionally-charged team meeting following the loss to Chapel cauterized the internal bleeding and sutured the wound, putting the program back on the upswing, so much so that on Tuesday White Hall was still on the practice field to prepare for the 5A title game against Vilonia.
“Once we realized that we didn’t have it and started working again as a team, that’s when we stepped back up,” Wheelus said. “We had certain people that were stepping up and keeping everyone pepped up and motivated. Once that started it got to be everyone doing it. And here we are going to play for a championship for the first time.”
One of those players that took initiative during the transition was senior slugger Haley Baugh, who ranks second in RBIs with 31 behind Rachel Box’s 41. Both players drove in crucial runs in a 5-3 win over 2010 state champion Greenbrier in Monday’s semifinal round.
Box and Baugh were still at the field taking batting practice Tuesday after the rest of the team had dispersed.
“We are a very talented team,” Baugh said. “I would like to say hitting is our strength but defense won the game for us over Greenbrier. But our hitting definitely keeps us in the game.”
With six of nine starters hitting over .400, led by Box’s .488, hitting is the key that makes White Hall’s motor run. And the extra work Box and Baugh have put in set a standard that the rest of the team followed.
“Every weekend, or every day that we don’t practice, we go hit,” said Baugh, who was selected Most Outstanding Senior Softball Player at Tuesday’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “Even the day we got rained out (Saturday) we came back home and went and hit.”
The other key component to White Hall’s success is the pitching of junior hurler Sydnee Clark. With an array of a half-dozen different pitches and a fast ball that has been clocked at 65 mph, Clark has the ability to stop opposing teams from scoring many runs, allowing the offense to dominate some games while also holding on to slim leads.
Clark admitted her nerves got the best of her against Greenbrier, but the experience gained in that game would only help her in the championship.
“I am not taking anything away from Vilonia, but I think if Greenbrier was on the other side of the bracket that’s who would have made it through,” Clark said. “I feel like that’s the biggest game we had played. We haven’t played Vilonia yet, but I feel like that was the toughest game we had to get through.
“Now we are here. It’s not as nerve-racking. Like then, we were still trying to get to the finals. Now we are going. I feel like we can relax and just play our game.”