May 21—Tenly Grisham had the tall task of replacing Hailey Lunderman in the top of Neshoba Central's order after Lunderman graduated from Neshoba Central in 2015.
To outside observers, it never seemed to overwhelm her. A year separated Lunderman's senior season and Grisham's seventh-grade year for the Lady Rockets, but she became a starter at third base in 2016 and never looked back. In that time, Grisham was a part of five state championship teams in fast-pitch for Neshoba Central, the only year without a championship being 2020, when the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In her final game as a Lady Rocket, Grisham went 2-for-3 with a walk to help Neshoba Central beat East Central 14-4 late Wednesday night to capture the MHSAA Class 5A state title in fast-pitch. It was the school's ninth fast-pitch championship in a row, and for Grisham, there was no better way to cap off a special high school career.
"It meant the world to me," Grisham said. "This team has worked so hard since August, and to come out on top is always the end goal."
Fellow senior Hama'ya Fielder finished 1-for-1 in the game with a double, two RBIs, three walks and four runs scored, and Neshoba Central softball coach Zach Sanders said the two of them have helped the school remain on top even after dominant players like Lunderman and former Lady Rockets pitcher Aspen Wesley graduated.
"I think it must've been Aspen's senior year, Hama'ya was our catcher," recalled Sanders, who was an assistant coach at Neshoba Central at the time. "She probably hadn't caught much in her career, but she was the type of athlete you could put behind the plate and win a state title with her. Tenly was our leadoff hitter starting her seventh-grade year, and she batted leadoff every game from then until (Wednesday) night. Both of them are unbelievable athletes, and they're two we'll miss for sure."
As a junior, Grisham was part of a Lady Rockets team that went undefeated en route to a state championship in 2021. That win streak was broken this spring, as Neshoba Central lost three games to finish 31-3. While they would have preferred to keep the streak going, Grisham said she and her teammates learned the right lessons from each of those losses.
"It made us realize how much more we wanted to win," Grisham said. "As bad as this sounds, it was a good thing, because it made us realize that every team sees that we're beatable, but we can overcome that and still beat them and win state."
It wasn't just the seniors who helped Neshoba Central stay on top. Freshman Lanayah Henry pitched all five innings in Wednesday's Game 2, surrendering four runs, three earned, on seven hits while striking out two. It was her second win in the state title series, as she shut out East Central 7-0 in seven innings during Tuesday's Game 1.
"She's really a competitor," Sanders said. "She works hard at softball and basketball, and she actually played some as a ninth grader in the run they had in basketball (winning state in Class 5A). She stepped up for us for sure at the plate and on the mound."
Wednesday night capped off what Grisham called a roller-coaster career at Neshoba Central, and she's grateful to have gotten one more state title before graduating from the school Friday.
"I can't thank my coaches enough for believing in me in the seventh grade," Grisham said. "I was 13 playing against 18-year-olds, and it's been the best roller coaster ride I've ever been on. It's truly amazing."
Her softball career isn't over, though, as Grisham signed with Ole Miss and will take the field for the Rebels next spring. As a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Grisham said she hopes to inspire other girls in the tribe to chase their dreams, whether it's in softball or elsewhere.
"Coming from a Native American background, it means the world to me to play at the next level in general, much less being able to go to an SEC school," Grisham said. "It shows that any little girl who has a dream can accomplish anything they want, especially from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. I want to be a role model that shows if you have your mind set to something, you can do it."
Charmayne Morris hit a triple and scored three times in Wednesday night's Game 2, and Sa'Nya Jackson was 2-for-4 with two runs scored, while Mya Willis doubled, drove in five runs and went 2-for-3. Mauhree Jones was also 2-for-3 with four RBIs, and Miley Thomas had a triple and went 2-for-3 with two RBIs.