February 27, 2013 9:35:03 AM
Scott Walters - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- Junior Hunter Mullis is excited about the Columbus High School baseball team this season.
"A lot of the guys on this team have been playing together since they were 8 years old at Propst Park," Mullis said. "We know each other. We play well together. I think we have a chance to have a special season."
Mullis showed he is ready to make serious contributions. In a workman-like six-inning performance, Mullis earned the victory as Columbus defeated Starkville 9-5 Tuesday night at Carlisle Field.
"The thing with this team is it is older and more mature," Columbus coach Jeffrey Cook said. "They are now able to handle adversity. In the past, something going bad would have affected us. Now, we keep battling. That is the sign of a veteran team. That is why I am really looking forward to this season."
Columbus (3-0) showed flashes of its brilliance. Still, the Falcons committed five errors and had a couple of baserunning mistakes. The extra outs extended Mullis' time on the mound, as he had to throw 105 pitches to complete the six innings.
"We had a really bad first inning," Columbus senior center fielder Jimmy Cockrell said. "We also showed what type of team we can be. When we have a bad inning, we don't get down anymore. Our pitching is really good. We know if get some hits, our pitching is good enough to shake of the mistakes."
Starkville (2-1) built a 2-1 lead in the first inning, thanks to two errors. The Falcons righted the ship and took the lead for good with a four-hit, four-run second. Cockrell's second double -- a two-run shot to the outfield gap -- was the key blow.
"Once we got some runs, I settled down," Mullis said. "I really wanted to finish the game, but it was a cold night and I knew I had thrown a lot of pitches. We have four really great pitchers on this team. It doesn't matter who is out there. We know they are going to get the job done."
Christian Dale closed the game by striking out the side on 10 pitches.
"We should be real competitive on the mound," Cook said. "There is a mind-set established out there. We have some really good competitors. I like our depth and we have a good mix of styles. When you get a few runs on the board early, everybody plays with more confidence."
After Starkville closed within 5-4, Columbus again extended the lead with a solo home run by Greg Sykes. Still, a line-drive double play snuffed this threat. An RBI single by Sykes and two of Starkville's four errors ran the lead to 8-4 an inning later.
The Yellow Jackets' poor fielding and struggles on the bases ruined the strong relief pitching of Colbey Rivers. Working in relief of starter Justin Conner, Rivers allowed two hits and two runs in the final four innings.
"We just never could really put up a zero," Starkville coach Brian Jones said. "That's the name of our game. We have to throw strikes and we've got to make the plays when we've got the chance."
Mullis and Dale combined for seven strikeouts in those final four at-bats. SHS had four baserunners in those four at-bats, with two of them being retired by catcher Gavonta Webb.
"I thought G Webb really had a great game behind the plate," Cook said. "You become a lot better defensive team when you get strikeouts and your catcher can erase runners. I thought he played smart and played really well."
Cockrell, Sykes, Logan Shackelford, and Webb each had multiple hits for Columbus. First baseman Tanner Clanton had three hits for Starkville.
"Everybody is excited about this team," Cockrell said. "We have been working hard since the end of last season. We think we are a team that can get in the playoffs and win some games. This is going to be exciting."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter