Smithville’s Katie Beth Williams found herself back in her comfort zone during her sophomore season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Filling a utility role as a freshman much like she did during her high school career with the Lady Noles, Williams made the full-time move to left field as a sophomore and felt she blossomed both offensively and defensively.
“Freshman year they tried putting me at third base, and I played that in junior high, but that’s not what I was comfortable with. I also played some shortstop when our regular shortstop got hurt,” Williams said. “I would play wherever you want, but where I’m most comfortable and where you’re going to get the best of me and most athleticism is outfield. For freshman year, I played some right field because he wanted me there. I loved right field, but this year he finally put me in left, and I made some plays that shocked me, but I knew I could make them. He said he wished he would have put me there sooner.”
Williams had off-season shoulder surgery, but didn’t let it slow her down offensively once the season started, despite not being able to hit much during the Bulldogs’ fall games.
“I worked on what I could, but I couldn’t actually just hit until right before the season started,” she said. “I worked on base hit little things, which is a big deal because it helped, but full-out swinging was what I missed out on.”
She improved her batting average by more than 20 points and upped her production with extra-base hits and RBI. As a sophomore, Williams hit .286 with seven doubles, a triple, a home run and 19 RBI. In the outfield, she recorded four assists and was a part of two double plays.
“Coming from a 1A school and then going to college, I struggled a little freshman year,” Williams said. “Just having more experience helped from my freshman to my sophomore year, seeing more movement on the ball and different speeds.”
Gulf Coast’s biggest rivalry is with Jones, and Williams said one of her favorite memories during her freshman season was playing against Jones and her former Smithville teammate Angel Guyton.
“I got to be funny but dirty with the trash talking,” she said. “I think that game was more emotional because it had more meaning behind it with the people we were playing against.”
As a sophomore, she named a game on the road against East Central as one of her favorite memories and also said she enjoyed big team wins against Jones and LSU-Eunice, two of the top JUCO softball teams.
“At East Central, here were a bunch of guys out in the outfield, and with our rivalry games at Hamilton, we had the outfield crew that would talk at us. That just pumps me up,” Williams said. “One of our girls, it made her mad and got in her head, and I said you just have to ignore it and leave it alone. They were all behind me, and the play before that, the ball dropped between me and our shortstop, and they were saying oh, that’s all on you. The next ball got hit to me, and it was an amazing diving play. When I turned around, all the boys had jumped out of their trucks and took off running. It was like now you see what I can do, so quit messing with me. The way they were talking to me hyped me up.”
After being eliminated in the playoffs during her freshman year by Jones, the Bulldogs made it to the state tournament this season, finishing off with losses there to ICC and Jones.
“When we got to state, I had experienced that competition and grit that you have to have. I think that where we lacked was some people had the heart for it, but didn’t understand you have to put more than just that into it,” Williams said. “To be able to say that I went to state in college is not more than high school because you’re with them for years, but it’s a big deal.”
Part of that experience at MGCCC was playing under longtime head coach Kenneth Long during his final two seasons. He retired after the 2019 season.
“He was a big difference from Coach (Jeremy) Duke, which I love playing under different coaches and getting different experiences. Coach Long was more laid back, and he was a fun type,” Williams said. “In high school, we always looked to Coach Duke for that energy and went off his vibe, but with Coach Long, we gave him that energy instead of him giving it to us. We hyped him up. To see that and see the coaches go off us, it was an experience to watch that. I was glad I got to play under him because if not, I don’t know what school I would have went to. It was far away, but I just loved the way they treated me when I went down for my visit. They made it feel like a home.”
Williams said she also developed a close bond with her teammates.
“It hurt me to leave to come back home because I had gotten so close with some of them. Meeting new people and seeing how they play the game and learning from them and them from me, it hurts to leave them, but I’m excited to see where they go,” she said. “You never really get tired of them because it’s always fun. There’s not much arguing. My sophomore season was especially more fun than my freshman season because the whole team was closer. This year, everyone clicked. All the sophomores were already really close anyway, and we didn’t push the freshmen away and made them feel wanted. Any time we went out and did something, we made sure we invited the whole team. It got to the point where everyone did everything together and made memories.”
When the opportunity came to play after Gulf Coast, Williams jumped at the opportunity, signing to play at Mississippi University for Women.
“I’m not ready to give it up,” she said. “Going to Columbus, they are a Division III school so they don’t do athletic scholarships, but it’s not about the scholarship you get to prove how good you are. It’s just the fact of I get two more years to play, and I have played since I was four. I wasn’t going to give up that opportunity because one day I won’t be able to play.”
She named playing on a turf field and playing under head coach John Newman as two of the things she was most looking forward to at MUW.
“I have played on infield turf, but the whole thing is on turf, outfield and everything. That’s something new I’m looking forward to,” Williams said. “The coach that’s there, it will be his second year there, and he reminds me so much of Coach Duke, very energized and hypes you up. I’m looking forward to playing under him. There’s also a girl there who’s the school nurse and also a softball coach, and if I ever want to get back into softball, I would have my nursing degree as well and go do both things that I love.”