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White Plains Breakout

White Plains’ Leighton Arnold follows through with a two-run triple at Jacksonville on Tuesday. (Photo by Joe Medley)
White Plains’ Leighton Arnold follows through with a two-run triple at Jacksonville on Tuesday. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Jacksonville, AL – White Plains’ Arnold hits her third homer of the season, accounts for six RBIs as Wildcats down Jacksonville in 4A, Area 10 play.

By Joe Medley

Arnold’s White Plains softball jerseys say “Wildcats” and show the number “10,” but the world sees “Class 4A hitter of the year.”

Wearing expectations that come with her 2023 achievement brings its own sense of urgency.

Arnold broke out of a slump in a big way Tuesday, blasting a home run and triple en route to a six-RBI performance in White Plains’ 14-5 victory in a Class 4A, Area 10 game at Jacksonville.

She went 3-for-5 and scored two runs, on top of pitching a complete game with 12 strikeouts.

She was, dare say, the Leighton Arnold of 2023 and a big reason why the Wildcats improved to 6-5.

“I keep comparing myself to hitting 25 home runs last year to not hitting any,” Arnold said. “Well, this was my third one.

“It feels good.”

White Plains’ Leighton Arnold follows through with a two-run triple at Jacksonville on Tuesday. (Photo by Joe Medley)
White Plains’ Leighton Arnold follows through with a two-run triple at Jacksonville on Tuesday. (Photo by Joe Medley)

White Plains teammates mob Leighton Arnold at the plate after she hit a three-run home run Tuesday at Jacksonville. (Photo by Joe Medley)
White Plains teammates mob Leighton Arnold at the plate after she hit a three-run home run Tuesday at Jacksonville. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Arnold’s breakout day came against the backdrop of an intriguing coaching matchup between a first-year head coach and a familiar face in a new place.

Jacksonville’s Gary Atchley, who coached multiple sports over 13 years at Weaver, including 10 years as Weaver’s head softball coach, is in his first season as Jacksonville’s head softball coach.

His first Jacksonville team is 4-6 after Tuesday’s game but showed spark, forcing a seven-inning game against a team that often run-ruled the Golden Eagles in previous seasons. Alexis Phillips’ triple and success in a rundown got Jacksonville on the board in fourth inning, and the Golden Eagles scored four runs in the sixth to close within 11-5 and extend the game.

Phillips went 3-for-4 and scored two runs. Jaylen Huntley hit a triple and had two RBIs.

“I like the fight in my team,” Atchley said. “I like what we’re doing. I think, when the dust settles,  think we’re going to be right in the mix. …

‘I’ve got a good softball team, and these girls are going to come to fight every night.”

Lex Muncher is in her first season as White Plains’ head coach. She’s the Wildcats’ third head coach in three years but served as an assistant in 2023, helping them reach the state tournament for the first time in four years.

“We’re pressing the gas,” Muncher said. “Nothing has really changed from last year to this year. We’re just using our experience, that I hope we can build off. We have six seniors. Hopefully, all of them are stepping up in their own way.

“The record may say something else, but the culture and the way we love each other has not changed at all. We’re just in a rough patch and finding our way out of it. I fully trust that this team is going to come out on top.”

Callie Richardson went 3-for-5 with a triple and double, three runs and two RBIs Tuesday. Carli Fritts, playing against her former team, went 2-for-4 with a double, run and two RBIs, and Cassidy Arnold had a single, two runs and two RBIs.

Leighton Arnold’s breakout game accounted for the biggest single chunk of White Plains’ output. The Alabama-Huntsville commit’s three-run home run to right-center field put the Wildcats up 8-1 in the top of the fifth.

Her two-run triple to the right-field corner made it 3-0 in the first.

Muncher, who starred for Jacksonville State University, was Kentucky’s 2015 Class 3A player of the year for Louisville Ballard High School and relates to Leighton Arnold’s carry expectations.

“When you are 4A hitter of the year, and you’re also an all-state player, and you hit 25 home runs, and you also commit over the fall, I’m sure there is a status that carries a little bit more weight,” Muncher said. “I went through the same thing.

“She doesn’t need to compare to last year. She’s a whole other player. Also, she created an experience that she gets to use this year. She’s learning and maturing, and we all have to remember that she’s 16, 17 years old.”

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