Desoto County Sports

Hernando softball, baseball teams keep playing

Both programs slotted into respective North Half championship series

Photo: Hernando’s Jayla Sites heads toward first base after hitting a fly ball during Saturday’s 10-4 series clincher against Germantown (Madison). (Bob Bakken/

Saturday was a pretty good night if you’re a Hernando baseball or softball fan. Both teams would have spots in their respective North Half final series if they could pull off victories and both teams came through to put themselves within four wins of a state championship. 

One did it in dominating fashion, the other made their entry into the North Half come about in a much more dramatic way. 

The dominating result came from coach Nicki Whitten’s Lady Tigers softball team, which dispatched Germantown (Madison) in two straight lopsided games, finishing with Saturday’s 10-4 result. Hernando opened the series Thursday against the Region 2-7A regular season champions with a 10-5 victory. 

Saturday, Hernando took advantage of seven Germantown errors while knocking out eight hits against the Lady Mavs on their way to the 10-4 win. The Lady Tigers also benefited from the starting pitching of Olivia Skinner and relief work from Kate Johnson. Skinner is only an eighth grader and Johnson is a junior. 

They now face county rival DeSoto Central for the right to move into the 7A state championship series at the University of Southern Mississippi.  

Johnson looks for Hernando’s hitting success to be a key against the Lady Jags.

“If we keep our bats alive and we have a positive attitude, effort, energy and hustle, like we have been, we can do it again,” Johnson said.  

Skinner said she is looking forward to playing in the North Half series. 

“I’m really excited, I think it’s going to be some great games, and I can’t wait,” Skinner said. 

Whitten, who has seen teams win a state championship and finish second at state, still is excited to see her group get this close to another state championship series appearance.

“It feels awesome,” said Whitten. “I know how hard it is to win and we’ve played some great teams in 7A. We have to come to the next series with a lot of grit.”

While the Lady Tigers were handling the Lady Mavs on the Hernando Middle School diamond Saturday, across the way at Hernando High School’s Tiger Field the tension and drama was building in front of an estimated 1,000 baseball fans from Hernando and rival Lewisburg. The deciding game three of their second-round playoff series played out and was decided with just outs remaining in the contest.  

Lewisburg, which won the 6A state championship last May, led the game 2-1 after a Sam Richardson homer that also scored Gunner Gilmore.  Fast forward to the bottom of the sixth with Hernando at the plate. It was a ground ball fielder’s choice by Preston Johnson that resulted in Meyer Maddox and Brody Martin scoring what would be the eventual game-winning runs. 

Hernando pitcher Tyler Sullivan set down the Patriots in order in the seventh to clinch the game and the series.  

First-year coach Taylor Karr said he’s always felt his team had the ability to make a long run in the playoffs. Karr came to Hernando from Lafayette (Oxford), where he had been the pitching coach for the Commodores the past two seasons.  

“We came here for this moment and it never got too big,” Karr said. “These kids have waited their turn for so long and I just felt like it was our time. The ultimate goal is to put a ring on our finger and I love the competitiveness here. We have to make it about winning a championship.”

Saturday’s outcome was bittersweet on the other side of the diamond for the Patriots, which played for the last time with Rusty Cagle as head coach. Cagle, whose Patriots have won two state titles, including last season’s 6A crown, had earlier announced he would transition from baseball to coach the school’s football team in the fall.

“It was a great game, a great high school atmosphere, and somebody had to lose,” said Cagle. “We had a great year and played a great schedule. I couldn’t be more proud of the year that we had. It’s been an honor of a lifetime to coach these kids.”

“What that guy has done is nothing but a testament to how great of a coach he is and I’ve got nothing but love for him and what he’s built,” Karr added.  

Now Hernando awaits the winner of the Oxford-Madison Central series to learn who their opponent will be in the North Half series. Oxford won the first game of the three-game set Saturday with a 5-3 victory.  

UPDATE: Oxford finished a two-game sweep of Madison Central 3-2 Monday night to move into the North Half finals against Hernando, starting in Hernando on Friday.