To say that the Highland Lady Rebels' softball team is clicking on all cylinders in the early stages of the 2009 season would be a massive understatement.
Especially after the weekend performance they turned in at the Rumble-N-Raiderville Tournament held at the Jonesboro Softball Complex.
The annual tourney features some of the region's best softball competition and the Lady Rebs made short work of all the teams that got in their way.
Highland knocked off Armorel, Trumann and Valley View, before topping Westside twice, the last time coming in the championship game of the tourney.
So add another piece of hardware to the Lady Rebels' ever-expanding trophy case.
Highland has only been playing fastpitch softball for a half-decade or so, and the heart of this year's Lady Rebel squad has been together for four of those years, learning, growing and coming together as one.
An important key to success, says Highland Head Coach Rebecca Rider.
"Anytime you can keep a core group together over the course of four years, is big," she said. "They know each other, they know each other's abilities and they're a very close group of girls. There are seven girls on this team that have been through it all. The first year they were together, we went 14-11. And then last year, we make it all the way to the state finals."
And the seniors on this year's team are counted on to do much more than just deliver on the diamond -- they're responsible for setting the tone in practice and helping develop the tradition of Lady Rebel softball.
"We have some rules that I set that we go by," said Rider. "One is, we never show frustration, we're always positive. And we do everything as a team. If we have an error on the infield, the whole team runs. So stressing teamwork has helped the girls become close. They encourage and motivate each other. I have a couple of freshmen that have came in this year, along with a junior who is playing for the first time, and the older girls will tell them if they're not doing something right. And with just one coach, I can't be at all the stations in practice at the same time, so our veterans really help out with that."
The first time the Lady Rebs faced Westside in the tourney, Karisa Hendrix tossed the first perfect game of her amazing career and Highland sent the Lady Warriors to the loser's bracket by a count of 4-0.
Jessica Sellers got Highland started with an RBI-hit that scored Stephanie Shaw, and then Alison Price came home to score on a hit from Murphy Williams, giving Highland a 2-0 lead after one.
And with the way Hendrix was in control of the mound, that would have been plenty.
But the Lady Rebs tacked on two more runs for a 4-zip shutout of their conference friends from Westside.
"We've really stressed offense this year and so far it's paid off," said Rider. "The girls have really been working hard in practice."
Highland opened tournament play with a 3-0 shutout of Armorel March 20.
Hendrix struck out 13 and also hit a line-drive that scored Kathryn Bobo and Shaw in the top of the first to give the Lady Rebels a quick 2-0 lead.
Hendrix did not allow Armorel a hit until the fourth inning and in the top of the fifth, Lindsey Goodwin smacked a double that plated Price to cap Highland's 3-0 victory.