March 22, 2013 9:58:35 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Normally high school coaches are afraid of letting their teams have fun at the expense of opponents.
Starkville Academy baseball coach Neal Henry isn't one of those people.
In fact, Henry encouraged the brooms to come out in his dugout late Thursday evening in a 6-5 and 11-8 sweep of East Rankin Academy at Volunteer Field.
"My group of young men always find a way to win," Henry said. "They don't go away, and all they need is one play to get them going and then it's over for the other team. They all have one goal, which is to win, and when you have that you win games in the last inning."
Henry watched Starkville Academy (9-3, 6-0 Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II) come from behind twice, including once in the bottom of the seventh inning, to take a four-game lead against the Patriots.
Starkville Academy took the first game after an apparent routine 4-6-3 double play groundball to end the game had East Rankin Academy shaking its head in disgust after a wild throw from shortstop to first base to complete the play allowed senior Stephen Robertson to score the winning run. The Volunteers scored all six runs in the final three innings to help Robertson overcome a four-run first inning.
"That first inning was rough for Stephen, but he's a senior and I could see him learning how to pitch on that mound tonight," Henry said. "We expected him to throw zeros up after he struggled like that, and he did that. If he doesn't do that, we're not in the game."
The victory was Starkville Academy's first in a one-run game after losing at Madison Ridgeland Academy and Jackson Academy in similar fashion last month. Robertson held the Patriots scoreless through the next five innings to give Starkville Academy a chance to maintain its perfect district record.
"Tonight showed us we should never give up and always fight," Starkville Academy senior pitcher/outfielder Hunter Bolin said. "I don't know why we wait to the last couple of innings to get our act together, but if it's not broke, why try and fix it?"
Bolin helped complete the sweep by allowing just three hits and no earned runs in game two. He also singled three times in an 11-1 victory against Parklane Academy on Tuesday, and went 3-for-3 against East Rankin. His key hit was a two-run double in the fifth after Henry asked him to drag bunt, but Bolin noticed the third baseman playing inside the bag on the grass, so he changed his plan.
"Hunter has been our lead-off hitter for three years and he is not going to move out of that spot," Henry said. "On the play where he doubled, is stuff you just can't teach and he comes up with the leadership stuff is his job."
Bolin was the only Starkville Academy player with multiple hits in game two, which saw East Rankin Academy players take exception to the Volunteers taking out the brooms.
A incident in the sixth saw an East Rankin Academy runner plow over senior catcher Colby Runnels, which led to an ejection.
Starkville Academy used the momentum from the ejection to score five runs in the sixth.
"To sweep East Rankin and go up four games on them this late in the season is something you couldn't ask much more out of in a doubleheader tonight," Henry said.
Starkville Academy, which is trying to go one step further this year after finishing as the Class AAA, Division II state runner-up last season, will play host to Hamilton at 3 p.m. Saturday.