Top players’ Starkville bound

Last week, Ben Bracewell didn’t know Jessica Cooley, and she had only heard his name. But the two neighboring stars on the baseball and softball diamond, share a lot of things in common.

Bound for Mississippi State University in the fall, both Bracewell, a Briarwood pitcher, and Cooley, a power-hitting outfielder at Oak Mountain, are the first seniors in their respective sports at their school to earn a scholarship at a Southeastern Conference school.

“It’s pretty cool. It feels like we’re representing the Birmingham area in Starkville,” Bracewell said. “It’s good to hear about other people going over there, because right at first, I thought I was going to be the only one going to Mississippi State.”

But before both leave for Starkville, Miss., they want to take their current teams to Montgomery.

Bracewell, a Louisville Slugger High School Pre-season All-American, likes Briarwood’s chances after falling short in a three-game series in the second round last year.

“I feel like this is probably one of the better teams that Briarwood has seen in a long time,” Bracewell said. “It was real big to see last year, at the end of the season, how we all clicked. We all saw what we were capable of doing, and we’ve all come into this season with that in the back of our minds, knowing what we can do.”

Cooley, a 2008 All-State selection, is part of one of the top up and coming classes in NCAA Division I softball, according to ESPN. But first, she wants a strong season and run at state.

“We have a really good team. The chemistry is really good and we just love to be out here,” Cooley said. “I think we definitely have the team to make it to state this year.”

While the two are focused on the season ahead and both have personal goals they hope to reach, the days of hanging on University Drive near MSU and enjoying breakfast at Bagel Cafe or a post-game meal at Bulldog Deli are just around the corner.