BIRTHRIGHT — It might be the quietest dynasty in Hopkins County.
For almost a decade the first week of May, means yet another district softball title and playoff berth for North Hopkins.
The swine flu ruling by the UIL has been able to do what no other team in this area has done - slow down the Lady Panthers.
North Hopkins, 12-4 on the year, went a perfect 8-0 in district, wrapping up their fourth consecutive district title and eighth straight playoff berth under head coach Jim Westbrook.
“We’ve had a good run off it, especially the last eight years,” Westbrook admitted. “We’ve had exceptional pitching to go with our defense and we hit enough to scratch out some wins.”
Westbrook’s Panthers are ready to break new ground, three times they have made it to the regional quarterfinals only to fall. Last year his team was defeated in the area round.
The veteran coach is hoping that this year will be the charm with his solid team up for the challenge of playing a while in the postseason.
“It’s pitching and defense, that’s our game. We have good pitching, we don’t give up much to the other team and we don’t beat ourselves. Very few times have we lost a game because of our error,” Westbrook said. “Our girls have good hands, they’re quick to the ball and they have good arms. We also focus on defense and take pride in the way we play. This is a very hard-working group.”
The team features seniors Chastin Smiddy, Jessica Harry and outfielders Grace Cox and Virginia Thompson.
The pitching combo of Smiddy and Harry have been on the varsity for four years, losing just one district game, a decision to Rivercrest when they were freshmen, in four seasons.
“Chastin and Jessica are both pitchers/shortstops. When one is on the mound, the other one is at shortstop, that combination has worked very well for us,” Westbrook said. “Smiddy has four pitches the change-up, dropball, riseball and fastball. Harry has more velocity and movement, she doesn’t throw a straight pitch. Those girls have just lost one district game in four years.”
Pitches fly to the plate at over 50 mph making it hard to adjust when opponents are standing just 40 feet away.
“We lose both of our pitchers this year. But we have a good team coming back defensively. Right now we just want to get back to work and play,” Westbrook said.
The team has gotten most games in despite recent rainy weather and only had to practice in the gym once.
North Hopkins got a first round bye with their playoff date still undecided - they take on the winner of Collinsville/Dodd City.
The Lady Panthers host teams from DeKalb, Big Sandy and Honey Grove for action May 12.
“We’re having a great time practicing. We had a brutal game of scrub the other day, the girls had fun and loved it. Having a bye is a hardship when you have to struggle to find a warm-up game,” Westbrook said. “We feel good if we can get five or six runs, but in the playoffs you have to be ready to win 2-1 or 3-2.”
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