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By JOEL COLEMAN
To pave their path to the Class 2A State championship series, the East Webster softball team has conquered every challenge they've faced.
Now, with the best-of-three title set against defending champion Enterprise Clarke slated to begin today, the Wolverines' toughest test is at hand.
Yet East Webster head coach Meleah Brown insists you won't see her club intimidated by the Bulldogs once play begins at 1 p.m. at Ridgeland's Freedom Ridge Park.
"We realize Enterprise Clarke is going to be a challenge, but we have faced three tough challenges to get where we are," said Brown. "We had Eupora in the first round and that was not an easy task. We had Mantachie second round which was also not an easy task. Then we faced Hatley, who had our number and had beaten us four times in a row, and we finally stepped up and did what it took.
"I feel like those three rounds have prepared us to be where we are right now."
East Webster's current position is of course one that every Mississippi high school team hopes to be at when softball season opens up each year. With that in mind, Brown says she has made sure the Wolverines (20-6) have taken the time to soak in their accomplishments as they get ready to play for the state crown.
"We've had fun at practice, because we want to make this worthwhile," said Brown. "Not many people get to experience this, so we're having fun, but at the same time we are being serious when we need to be serious."
After sweeping through each of the first three rounds of this year's playoffs, Brown began preparing East Webster for Enterprise Clarke on Monday. That day, the Wolverines' first-year leader made sure her team realized the magnitude of their current situation.
"I told them everybody else is sitting at home," said Brown. "That means we're the best team from the North and (Enterprise Clarke) is the best team from the South so it's down to business now.
"I told them (Enterprise Clark) is going to be good. There is no question about if they're going to be good or not."
While the Bulldogs (27-5) are loaded with strengths, Brown says their greatest asset is their pitching.
"I've heard that their pitcher is the best one there is in this state," said Brown. "Whether she is or not, we'll find out tomorrow. But we've been preparing for her. I've heard she throws pretty hard so we've been trying to get ready for some fast pitching."
To prepare her club for Enterprise Clarke's power-pitching style, Brown says she dug out the pitching machine for this week's East Webster practices.
"We haven't used the pitching machine a whole lot this year, but since everybody's told me we're going to be seeing some pretty fast pitching, we got the machine back out," said Brown. "We moved it up and turned it up as fast as it would go. I'm just trying to get them used to seeing something coming at them that fast."
It remains to be seen how much this week's drills have helped the Wolverines, but recent history indicates East Webster is pretty good when it comes to making offensive adjustments.
To get her club ready for Hatley last weekend, Brown, a former pitcher from her high school days, took to the mound again in East Webster practices to get the Wolverines acquainted with the speed-changing ability of Hatley's Lesley Hudson.
Those drills, combined with an East Webster defense that Brown says has been "sound all year" helped the Wolverines advance to the state championship to begin with.
Brown is hoping East Webster can replicate the same formula to climb to the mountaintop of Class 2A.
"We've just got to keep doing what we've been doing and just keep doing what's been working," said Brown.
After today's series-opening contest, the set resumes with a second game on Saturday in Ridgeland at 11 a.m. If needed, a third game would also be played on Saturday.
"Hopefully we can win the first two and it won't go to (a third game)," said Brown. "But if any round goes to a third game, it's probably going to be this one."
East Webster and Enterprise Clarke, along with all the schools vying for state titles in all other classifications, were originally scheduled to open championship play on Friday.
That all changed earlier this week however due to conflicts with several schools' graduations.
"In order to accommodate graduation ceremonies for each of these schools, we had to make changes to the softball schedule and, in one case, the baseball schedule," MHSAA executive director Ennis Proctor said Monday. "We appreciate all of their cooperation and wish them good luck in our state championships."