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Comets girls greet familiar foe

The Halifax County High School varsity softball team hosts a somewhat familiar foe Monday when they play the C.D. Hylton Bulldogs in the quarterfinal round of the Northwest Region Tournament.

The Comets have played the Bulldogs twice in the past three years, the latest a 10-0 win in early March at the Battle of the Bases Tournament in Rocky Mount.

Halifax pounded out 12 hits, including two doubles in that contest, which was called after five innings under the mercy rule.

The Comets also defeated Hylton 6-2 in 2009 in the first round of the Northwest Region Tournament.

Hylton advanced to Monday’s quarterfinal round with a 3-1 win over Battlefield, and that score has caught the eye of the Comets’ Head Varsity Softball Coach Melanie Saunders.

Much has changed since her team’s win over Hylton in March, she cautioned.

“Their team has changed a lot since then, and our team has changed a lot,” said Saunders.

“You have to be a quality team to beat Battlefield.”

The Comets have been taking things one day at a time to get ready for regionals, and that has been the team’s M.O. the entire season, Saunders pointed out. 

“We have practiced hard this week, intense and focused,” she explained.

“We have been focusing on one game at a time.  That has been our thought process this entire season.

“Of course we wanted to make it to regionals and state, but our focus has been on each practice and each game, and all of it has come together to put us where we are now.”

 “The leadership we have on this team has been awesome,” Saunders noted.

“The girls that were with us last year know what it takes to get to this point. They have to be both physically and mentally tough every practice and every game.

Each team the Comets will face from now on will be a tough challenge, Saunders emphasized.

“We know all the teams will be strong, and it’s going to come down to who comes out there and gives everything they’ve got,” Saunders noted.

“There’re going to be errors, and we’ll just have to battle back and regroup from those.

“We’ve done a great job of that, and I think different this year is the kids have come together and understood the concept of team. 

“When someone makes an error they lift them up, and when someone has a bad at-bat they pick them up when they come back to the dugout.

“Someone doesn’t have to feel if all the weight is on their shoulders.”

“Win as one, lose as one, and I think that’s the biggest difference this year, we had kids coming back who know what it takes,” continued Saunders.

“They were there last year, and the competition level is going to be much more different than what we’ve seen to this point.

“It’s hard to not have any games this week.  We have five days of practice, and you know we would have loved to have had a couple of games this week, but we’re one of the best teams in the state so we’re going to practice against each other.

“That’s just as good as playing a game, so our intensity level is where it needs to be, and we need to keep going forward where we’re getting better day by day.”

Monday marks the start of a brand new season, Saunders pointed out.

“This is really what you work for from the beginning.  You take it game by game, but this is the part of the season you work for,” said Saunders.

“We want to focus and work hard in the region and go to state.

“We got there last year, and I think a lot of us for not being at that level before were intimidated.

“We have as good a defense as any team in the state, and we have some kids who can hit and stay consistent at the plate.

“They need to go in believing they can do it, and they’ve done it so far.”

Halifax County lost only twice last year, in the regional finals to state runnerup Battlefield and in the state quarterfinals to eventual state champion Lee-Davis.

“Two losses against the top two teams in the state, you can’t get any closer than that,” Saunders pointed out.

“These kids know what to expect.  We’ve really focused on the mental part of the game lately, so we’re going in there with the confidence to do it.

“Physically, we’re capable, and mentally they’re getting to that point where they believe in themselves, and that’s what’s going to make a difference.

“They’re behind each other.  We don’t let people get down, and body language is a big thing.

“Staying upbeat and positive is a key.”

“You may make errors or have a bad at-bat, but you always have a second chance,” added Saunders.

“Our team is always behind each other,” Comets’ senior hurler Samantha Gibson, 2011 Western Valley District Player of the Year said after the district tournament championship game.

“I think we can go even further this time.”