By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The Tipton-Rosemark Academy Lady Rebels faithful have grown to the new-look batting order.
But the opposition taking on TRA have to get used to the sight of Shelby Clifton leading off games. The scouting report coming into the season was Clifton was a cleanup hitting catcher with power to all parts of the field.
Lady Rebels Head Coach Johnie Sanfratello also knows Clifton can hit for average. The veteran Skipper made the strategic move hoping to increase the team’s production.
“I know Shelby is going to get on base,” Sanfratello said. “She’s going to get a courtesy runner once she reaches. It will limit them pitching around her. They will have to pitch to her.”
The move seems to be working with TRA winning 18 of the 21 game since Clifton become the leadoff hitter. The sophomore slugger seems to be the answer to the question of who will replace All-State, Millington Star Athlete of the Year Taylor Beasley.
“We will either have a runner on first or second base,” Sanfratello said. “She’s doing as good of a job as Taylor Beasley of getting on base. It’s a different formula of getting there. But she’s getting it done.
“Katie Diggs is hitting in the two-hole,” he continued. “ And she’s the least likely to strikeout on our team. She can handle the bat. She’s just a dirt baller. She’s going to put the ball into play. If we can start the game with a runner on first or second, Katie is going to get her over or drive her in.”
The Lady Rebels illustrated the new lineup works against the Harding Academy Lady Lions April 17 at TRA Softball Field. In the 12-0 victory over Harding Academy, TRA jumped out 4-0 in the first inning.
Clifton drew a walk leading to an RBI opportunity for Diggs. The senior third baseman singled in the runner to make the score 1-0.
No. 3 hitter Rachel Whitley reached base with a walk. Then Emily Fisher produced a run with a single to drive in Diggs.
Ahead 2-0, freshman Abby West smacked a base hit to score a pair of runners. TRA was ahead 4-0.
“Our three, four, five and six are all capable of hitting the ball out,” Sanfratello said. “But they’re going to drive runs in. A lot of times we’re starting the games off in a good situation either up one or we got four in the first today. But we’re going to put up a lot of runs when our leadoff runner gets on base.”
TRA added some security in the second inning with a two-out rally. Diggs and Whitley reached base. Fisher drove in two runs with a base hit. West made the score 7-0 driving in another run.
The Lady Rebels had one more big rally in the fourth inning starting with an Emily West single scoring a pair of runs. Lexi Williams struck a big blow with a base hit driving in two more runs in the frame.
Throughout the contest, the Lady Rebels defense was solid behind the pitching of Whitley. Sanfratello said the offensive stats of 23 home runs in 25 games is great but it takes arms like Whitley and eighth grader Charli Rice to win in April and May.
“You can’t win without pitching,” he concluded. “Rachel has done a great job. Charli has done just as phenomenal of a job. They just get outs. That’s the name of the game. They put us in a position to win just about every game.”