April 19, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
MABEN -- The little things make a big difference for teams that have the talent to win a state title.
So even with his team leading by six runs in the third inning Friday afternoon, East Webster High School baseball coach Wes Johnson was concerned.
After cruising through the first two innings, starting pitcher Blake Love suddenly lost his command, surrendering a double, walk, single, and walk that helped Puckett cut its deficit to four runs.
East Webster''s loss of emotion and energy was equally troubling.
But things didn''t stay that way for long, which is why the Wolverines have the potential to win their second consecutive Class 1A state title.
Buoyed by a strong relief effort by Jordan Mixon, East Webster erupted for six runs in its next at-bat to regain the momentum en route to a 14-4 victory in game one of its first-round Class 1A state playoff series.
Love had three hits and three RBIs, Reggie O''Briant added two hits and two RBIs, and Christopher Gordon went 1-for-1 with three RBIs in a 16-2 victory in game two to help the Wolverines (25-3) sweep the best-of-three series.
East Webster will face the winner of the Bogue Chitto-Ethel series in the second round next week.
While hitting has been the team''s strength this season, Johnson said the third inning of game one was just another example how the Wolverines have battled with inconsistent pitching all season.
"We don''t have the pitchers who are going seven innings," Johnson said. "We''re going to have to piece games together. You have to throw strikes. We walked seven in the first game. If we continue to do that, it is going to cost us in the long run."
Johnson could afford to think ahead because Friday night''s games never were in question. East Webster pounded 23 hits in the doubleheader and capitalized on eight errors in game two.
"We''re going to swing the bats," Johnson said. "We''re going to score runs. We have got to throw strikes. We play good defense. We have to get in our heads we can''t give those guys free passes. When you get up against a good team and walk two or three in an inning it can turn into eight or nine runs in an inning."
Its opponents the rest of the way likely will provide tougher tests, which is why Johnson and his players don''t want anything to get in their way.
A lineup that pinballs the baseball all over the field can be a big help.
East Webster had seven extra-base hits in game one, including home runs by Jermaine Liggins, Mixon, and Hayden Hendrix, and a 4-for-4 effort by O''Briant (two doubles, triple).
The Wolverines slacked off in game two with just four extra-base hits.
O''Briant, who will play baseball in the fall at Holmes Community College, said hitting is infectious for the Wolverines. When one player gets hot, everyone follows suit.
"We bounce back real good," O''Briant said. "If we make a couple of errors we come in, talk it up, and come up and get some big hits and climb back up on top."
Gordon, Liggins, and Love will join O''Briant on the HCC baseball team, while pitcher/first baseman Tanner Roberson, who pitched three innings in game two to get the victory, will play football at HCC.
Love admitted he didn''t do his job on the mound in game one. He also said the Wolverines seemed to lose a little focus. He said the ping of hit after hit helped the team regain its confidence and spirit.
"We just work at hitting every day," Love said. "I have confidence in one through nine, whoever is up at bat really. I believe they are going to get the job done."
Liggins feels the same way. The left fielder joined Gordon with three hits in game one and had four RBIs. He said all of the work he and his teammates do in the cage gives them confidence they can deliver in any situation.
"I have my mind set I am going to hit the ball, just like when I am in the cage," Liggins said. "I have been hitting the ball well all season."
Many of the hitters in East Webster''s lineup can say the same thing. If the Wolverines can play tough defense and be more consistent on the mound, they have an opportunity to add a 2009 championship sign to the wall in center field.
"I know when we get it going there is nobody who is going to stop us," O''Briant said.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.