March 29, 2013 10:06:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- A play here, a play there.
Brian Jones has seen his first Starkville High School baseball team fall on the wrong side of a thin margin for error more than a half dozen times this season.
On Thursday, Jones and the Yellow Jackets saw that trend hit its peak against his former team, Neshoba Central High.
Starkville saw a rally fall short in the sixth inning after scoring two runs and having two aboard with no outs in a 4-2 loss, its fifth in a row.
Starkville (7-11, 1-3 Class 5A, District 3) had three errors, two of which moved runners into scoring position and led to runs.
For Jones, the miscues were just as tough to stomach as the chances to compensate left on the field. Eight of Starkville's games have been decided by two runs or fewer. The Yellow Jackets have won two of them.
"We gave them extra outs the other night at their place (a 5-3 loss)," Jones said. "You have to pitch well and make plays when you have
opportunities. It's frustrating. We work on it, but the guys have to make plays when they have their opportunity.
"We got a foul ball in the first that three feet foul, at second and third, would have been a two-run double. We're three feet foul and about six inches short all year."
Jones, who was head coach at Neshoba Central (10-1, 3-0) for 12 years, downplayed the notion of added motivation against players he helped mold.
"I want to win next week versus Canton just as bad," Jones said. "Does it hurt worse? Maybe so because I spent a long time there building that up. I've seen a lot of those guys grow up. I like a lot of those kids."
Starkville pitcher Tanner Clanton did his best to spark a needed signature victory. Clanton pitched seven innings and surrendered just two earned runs on seven hits.
"When I could get my curveball to break, they couldn't hit it," Clanton said. "I tried to pound the zone with my curveball. It was working sometimes."
Clanton found himself on the offensive end of the Jackets' late-game rally, too, when he notched his second single and scored in the sixth. Clanton's hit came in between a solo home run by Max Bartlett and a single by Tyler Barnes that put runners on the corners. Neshoba Central got out of the jam with a 6-4-3 double play and a pop out.
"We were fighting, he got a good hit, I hustled ... the double play just killed it," Clanton said.
The slow start and failed rally was all too familiar for Clanton, who said focus isn't a concern for the Yellow Jackets.
"We start off slow. That's our problem," he said. "But if we can start off like we are at the end, we'd be pretty good. We got to hit the ball. We're not hitting the ball until the end of the game. We're tired of losing."
Starkville faces what Jones called "a must-win game" Tuesday at Canton. It is three games out of first place in its division.