HATTIESBURG — Toughness, grit and playing with pain are terms we usually associate with the manly sport of football. Here Thursday, at the Mississippi High School Softball State Championships, is living, limping proof that those terms also can apply to young ladies who play fast-pitch softball.
Meet Hallie Burns, an 18-year-old senior at Booneville High, who pitched and helped hit the Blue Devils to a 7-4 victory over West Marion for a third straight Class 3A State Championship. And, yes, she’s the same Hallie Burns who helped Booneville win a second straight state basketball championship less than three months ago. She’s the same Hallie Burns who has signed a softball scholarship to play for Ole Miss.
Burns now has been the winning pitcher in six straight state championship series games over three years, allowing only two earned runs over 40-plus innings. None of the previous five victories were nearly as difficult — or painful — as the one Thursday when she went six innings despite painful left hip and back injuries that had her literally limping to first base after her two singles she added to the Blue Devils’ cause.
How bad was she hurting?
“It felt like a knife stabbing me in the back,” she said after the Booneville victory celebration.
Burns’ hip and back woes are a long, fairly complicated story that we’ll try to make as short and simple as possible. Pitching softball, the fast-pitch variety, requires much violent twisting and resulting torque of the left hip (for a right-hander, as is Burns). She first experienced fairly serious pain toward the end of her 10th grade season two years ago.
“It doesn’t bother me much when I’m fresh but over the course of a season it wears down,” she said. It probably didn’t help this year when the day after Booneville won the state basketball championship, she was pitching softball.
The usual wear and tear was exacerbated last Saturday night when she slid into second with a double in Booneville’s 4-3, North State Championship victory over Kossuth.
“I jammed my hip,” Burns said. “It was all out of whack.”
She spent Sunday alternating ice baths with back rest. She missed Monday’s practice for a doctor visit. But Tuesday night she pitched the Blue Devils to a 6-1 victory, giving up three nits, no unearned runs and striking out 10 in Game One of the best of three championship series.
On Wednesday, she rested. On Thursday Booneville coach Jessica Taylor asked her, “Can you go?”
“Yes ma’am,” Burns answered, and go she did. The first two innings — actually the first eight outs – were a breeze, and then on the last batter of the third inning (with a no-hitter going), something happened.
“Something in my hip or sacrum slipped,” she said.
The next three innings were pretty much a matter of pain tolerance and no small amount of courage. She didn’t have her best stuff, but she persevered, striking out 11 and giving up just four hits and two earned runs over six innings. She threw 76 pitches, 60 for strikes.
Booneville plated six runs in the sixth inning to take a 7-3 lead. With a 7-4 lead going into the bottom of the seventh, Burns told Taylor, her coach, she should put Olivia Garrett in to pitch the last inning, saying she had little gas left in her tank and that Garrett would give them the best chance to win.
“She sacrificed her last inning pitching,” Taylor said. “How selfless is that?”
But Burns didn’t come out of the game. She shifted to third base. And wouldn’t you know it, with two outs the last West Marion batter hit a two-hopper to Burns at third. She fielded it cleanly and threw a perfect strike to first base, clinching her fifth state championship godmedal (two basketball, three softball).
Over five softball seasons, she has achieved a pitching record of 71-10, striking out a whopping 1,062 batters.
When a sports writer half-jokingly suggested that she should spend the next month doing nothing but resting she laughed and replied, “Right now, that sounds pretty good.”