Photo by Kathy Smith

By Robert Wilson

       When Jolie Hays was having trouble with her control as a freshman at Northwest Rankin, her mom Beth asked Lady Cougar coach Mike Armstrong to not give up on her.

       Armstrong didn’t and Hays kept working on her pitching.

       She improved so much she was named the Mississippi Gatorade Softball Player of the Year this season after leading her team to their first MHSAA Class 6A state championship since 2009.

       The junior and Southern Miss commitment had a 21-2 record, including 8-0 in the playoffs, and a 1.03 earned run average and had 213 strikeouts in 157 innings and led Northwest Rankin to a 33-4 record this season. A leftfielder when she wasn’t pitching, Hays had a .398 batting average with six doubles and triples.

       Hays had a 14-3 record with a 0.88 ERA and had 130 strikeouts in 112 innings and had a .382 batting average and helped Northwest Rankin to a MHSAA Class 6A state runner-up last season as a sophomore.

“The first time I met Jolie was when she came to one of my pitching camps at Northwest Rankin,” Armstrong said. “Jolie was probably in the fourth or fifth grade. I knew then she had a chance to be a very good pitcher, especially being left-handed. When Jolie was finally old enough to be on the team in the seventh grade, she started several games and struck out 84 batters that year. In her eighth and ninth grade seasons, she struggled with her strike zone, and we didn’t pitch her very much especially in big games. Her mom talked to me that summer to please not to give up on her and she was working hard on her control. She came back her 10th grade season and began the season as our number two pitcher in January but by our first game in February she had become our number one. Jolie is very competitive, so much that sometimes we have to have a talk about not having to carry the team in every game and that we have other great players on the team.  

“Jolie is a 4.0 student and a great leader on and off the field. She has helped the past three to four years at our NWR softball camps and many of the young girls look up to her in so many ways. This year so many of them asked to have their picture taken with her.”

       “It was the best feeling in the world to win state,” Hays said. “We knew that we should have won it last year, but we weren’t experienced enough yet. Finally achieving our goal that we had since last year was such as relief. All the hard work that everybody put in paid off.

       “I continued to work both offensively and defensively to try to improve from last year. My mindset and determination also matured greatly. I wanted to be able to provide my team with whatever was needed in any aspect.

       “My expectations for next year are much greater than they were this year. As a whole, I expect us to be even more dominant considering we have all but one starter returning for next season along with much improved non-starters. Everyone, including myself, now knows what it takes to truly be the best in the state. Now, we will just continue to work and work to remain not only the best in the state, but also one of the best in the nation.”

       Hays is the daughter of Beth and John Hays. She isn’t the only athlete in the family. John played football and baseball at Cruger-Tchula Academy. Jolie’s older brothers, John and Coleman, played sports at Central Holmes Christian School in Lexington. John played football, baseball and track and field and Coleman played baseball.