NETTLETON – You won’t see Heather Noe smiling after a loss. That only happened twice during the slow-pitch softball season, but she was just as unhappy with those two as she would have been with 12 more.
Ironically, she did crack a smile after a softball short-hopped off her chin in the 2009 MHSAA North state series at Booneville.
Then she waved off the trainer.
Noe, the Daily Journal’s Slow-Pitch Softball Player of the Year, may have anchored third base for 2009 Class 3A champion Nettleton, but the senior sees herself as just one of the cogs in a well-oiled machine.
“I guess I try to make sure everybody is pumped up for games and make sure everybody’s focus is right so we can keep our head on straight,” Noe said. “I don’t know if I’d be called the leader or not. I think that’d be everybody. There’s no one certain person on our team that is really the leader. Everybody on our team is a leader.”
Seven of Nettleton’s 10 starters batted .437 or above in a 28-2 season. Noe’s .478 clip was second only to Makenzie Hawkins’ .500. Her 30 RBI were third best on the team.
“Earlier in the year, I called her our ‘dirtbag,’ ” Nettleton coach Dana Rhea said. “She’ll go headfirst. She’ll run over somebody. She’s going to do everything you want her to do and do it 100 percent every time she’s on the field.
“She’s one of those kids that every coach wants to coach. You can’t say enough about a kid like that.”
Noe and her five senior teammates are by no means strangers. They began their playing days together in coach-pitch.
The Lady Tigers lost only one games en route to May’s fast-pitch title and only two – one in Jackson – in their drive to the slow-pitch title.
Noe said Rhea uses an analogy of someone hanging from a string and asks his girls who they’d want holding onto the other end of the string. The answer is always “their teammates.”
And not that the girls don’t have disagreements off the field. But Noe says that when there are differences, they don’t surface during games.
BFFs on the field
“We’re always best friends on the field,” Noe said. “That means a lot because we can play together well. I trust anybody on that field, anybody on our team with anything I need to talk about.”
Trust isn’t the only thing the Lady Tigers have in common with one another. Rhea and assistant coach Chris Kidd, the fast-pitch head coach, try to instill the same leadership value in them all.
“I’ve always tried to teach my kids to lead by example,” Rhea said. “You can say a lot of things, but actions speak louder than words. Heather’s one of those types of players. You never really had to get onto Heather. She was just able to understand her mistakes without having to really be disciplined.”
Rhea told a reporter after the title series that his team didn’t have any superstars, something his players all took to heart.
“A lot of our kids are like Heather,” he said. “That’s what got us to where we were. They didn’t have to be very vocal. We’ve taught them to lead by example and they were all good examples for each other.”
Noe is looking at all her options before deciding where to continue her softball career.
As for now, she’ll enjoy the slow-pitch title and try and help Nettleton to a second straight fast-pitch crown behind the plate.
“We’re out there for our team and Coach Rhea and Coach Kidd, and we have to play together no matter what,” she said. “I think we all motivated each other to get where we needed to be.”
When Noe took the ball to her chin, Rhea wasn’t surprised when she motioned everyone back to the dugout.
“No. That’s a perfect example,” he said. “She’s a hard-nosed player. She’s going to give you all she’s got. She wants to play. She wants to be in the game. She wants the ball hit to her.”
Brandon Speck/Monroe Journal