By DANNY P. SMITH
Winston Academy softball coach Jessica Dickens knows a little bit about the Starkville Academy Lady Volunteers.
As the coach at SA last season, Dickens became pretty familiar with the program.
A scouting report wasn't really needed after Dickens learned that her Lady Patriots would be playing the Lady Vols in the second game of the Starkville Academy Invitational.
There was one Lady Vol that Dickens didn't know as well as the others.
Nikki Ford, a transfer from Ackerman, was credited with three hits and drove in three runs, including a key two-run single in the sixth to help Starkville Academy defeat Winston Academy 5-3 at the Mississippi State RecPlex.
"She came up with some big clutch hits," Dickens said of Ford's day. "She drove in three runs and did a great job."
The Lady Vols increased a 3-2 lead to 5-2 on Ford's single and she was happy to contribute.
"I've been working in practice on hitting it in the opposite direction and it paid off," Ford said. "It was a really good hit for me. I was so excited and it pumped me up. I'm glad we won that game. We needed to win that game."
Ford and coach Kayla Mosley came to the SA program at the same time.
Mosley called Ford's two-run single "huge" and said she has adjusted to being a part of the team well.
"We had a lot of chances to score some runs earlier, but (Ford) came through when we needed it and that's all that matters so I'm very proud of our girls," Mosley said. "(Ford) has done a great job and the girls are happy to have her. She's been a big help so far this season."
Ford said the Lady Vols have made her feel welcome.
"I really like it here," Ford said. "The people are nice and I love playing softball here for coach Mosley."
Starkville Academy scored a run in the first inning when Mary Austin Barber came home on a fielder's choice by Ford. Barber drove the first pitch she saw for a double to start the game.
In the second inning, the Lady Vols scored two more runs on RBI singles by April Burney and Adrienne Futral.
The Lady Patriots closed the gap to 3-2 with a pair of runs in the third and the score stayed that way until Ford delivered in the sixth for SA.
Winston Academy was able to get a run in the sixth, but left a runner at second base at the end.
"Our third baseman getting hit in the face (by a line drive) and shortstop getting hit in the face (by an incoming baserunner in the second) kind of shook us up a little bit," Dickens said. "We battled back, but just didn't have enough time.
"Starkville hit the ball well and I was impressed with their hitting. They played the better game."
Barber had a pair of doubles and a single to lead a 12-hit attack for the Lady Vols. Futral, Burney and Julianne Jackson had two singles each.
Ford could tell how much her teammates wanted to make a statement against their former coach.
"They were talking about how they really wanted to beat her because she left, but it was a really good game and we needed to win it because she was the old coach," Ford said. "They have good players and so do we. We just hit better than them."
Mosley said it just so happened that Dickens and Winston Academy matched up in the winner's bracket game.
She admits getting the victory gave the opportunity for some good-natured ribbing with Dickens.
"Both of us are really competitive in good fun," Mosley said. "It was a good win to get and I'm sure we'll tease each other a little bit."
Leake Academy 7,
Starkville Academy 2
The Lady Rebels jumped out to a 7-0 lead and advanced in the winner's bracket of the SA Invitational.
The two runs scored by the Lady Vols came in the seventh inning.
Emily Gregory had a triple for Starkville Academy, while Barber had the only other extra base hit with a double. Lauren Ware added a pair of singles, while Jackson and Ford had one single each.
With the loss, the Lady Vols (5-4) fell into the loser's bracket and the tournament was expected to last into the late hours on Saturday night.
Starkville Academy 15,
Kemper Academy 1
Barber started the day with two doubles as the Lady Vols won the first game easily.
Megan Picard chipped in a single and a double, while Futral had the only other extra base hit with a double. Ware, Gregory and Burney had one single each.