May 23, 2013 10:46:41 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
PEARL -- The New Hope High School baseball team has followed a winding road with more than its shares of ups and downs this season.
It was only fitting Wednesday that the Trojans' latest step was pocked plenty of crooked numbers.
Little did New Hope know it was going to need the last crooked number to push it one step closer to its biggest victory in 10 years.
Tee Payne delivered a RBI triple in the bottom of the sixth inning to score Taylor Stafford, and Rooke Coleman followed with a run-scoring single to provide some insurance in an 11-9 victory against Pascagoula in game one of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State title series at Trustmark Park.
"Everybody came up big," Payne said. "Rooke Coleman had two huge, clutch hits. Landon (Boyd) started it off, and we scored in every inning. That was huge. They had the big sixth inning, but coach (Lee) Boyd just told us, 'They have only three outs and we have six.' We battled with what we had and we did what we had to do."
New Hope (26-8) will try to clinch its first state title since 2003 and the best-of-three series at 1:30 p.m. Friday. If needed, game three will be Saturday at a time to be determined.
Seven of New Hope's starters had hits in the 13-hit attack. Boyd and Payton Lane had two hits each, while Will Golsan, Stafford, and J.C. Redden each had hits to help the team build a 9-3 lead. Pascagoula chased starting pitcher Redden in the top of the sixth en route to a six-run uprising that tied the game at 9.
"I was a little nervous because they won it last year and they only lost one player, so you knew they were going to be good," Coleman said. "The way we came up, we were just hitting the baseball. We were seeing it. Everybody --one through nine -- was hitting the ball. That is what you have to do to win games like that."
Instead of losing the momentum, New Hope didn't waste any time making a statement. Stafford singled up the middle to start the rally. Payne, who had two singles earlier in the game, lashed a laser to left field that appeared to hit the white Farm Bureau sign in left field. That sign was directly above another white sign that was on the left-field fence. While pinch runner Jared Bradley raced around the bases to score, the rest of the players didn't know if Payne's blast was a home run. Payne showed his 4.8 speed in the 40-yard dash by hustling past the cutoff man and beating him to third base.
"Yeah, it was a home run," Payne said. "Their coach even said he wrote it down in the book as a home run."
Coleman, who used an upper-cut swing to launch a double to the warning track in the third inning, kept the ride going with a single to right field that scored Trae Collins with the final run of a busy day.
New Hope scored three runs in the first thanks in part to two errors. Pascagoula's right fielder appeared to lose Stafford fly ball in the sun for the first error. The shortstop committed the second error when he fielded Coleman's ground ball and threw wide of the second baseman covering the base. The second error allowed two runs to score. The first scored on Payne's single.
The Trojans tacked on two runs in the second, one in the third, two more in the fourth, and run in the fifth. The consistent production up and down the order pushed the margin to 9-3 before Redden exited after 5 2/3 innings. He struck out three and walked four. His ability to keep Pascagoula off balance allowed him to survive a high pitch count early in the game. Pascagoula then touched Golsan for four hits and capitalized on a walk and a hit by pitch to tie the game.
But New Hope's efficiency at the plate proved to be too much. The 11-run showing proved similar to how the team hit the ball for much of the season until a late-season lull cost it in losses to Oxford, Northridge (Ala.), Columbus, and Amory. The Trojans found their rhythm at the plate in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs against Lake Cormorant, earning two mercy-rule victories. That initial shot of confidence has fueled New Hope in the postseason.
"We played as a team today," Coleman said. "Four, five, and six, we're like brothers. When one fails, the other one picks the other one up. It is a different person every day. It is just what we do."
Payne, who was listed on the roster of a Senior All-Star football game that was played Wednesday night in Saltillo, struggled early in the season but relied on his teammates to pick him up. His struggles forced coach Boyd to move him in the lineup, but Payne found his stroke and is back in the heart of a lineup that has proved to be quite capable of doing damage.
Whether Payne does that kind of damage in college remains to be seen. A fixture on the line for the school's football team, Payne said he will take a visit to Henderson State University in Arkansas at the end of the baseball season. He said there is a chance he could earn a scholarship at the first semester at the school. He said not many college baseball coaches have talked to him about having him join their programs. He said he doesn't consider the state title series a chance for him to prove he can play college baseball. The No. 1 goal has been team related.
"Ever since we have been little kids, everyone has been talking about this team that when my senior class and this junior class is when we are going to win a state championship," Payne said. "That has been our main focus all year. When we got here, it felt like a regular game because we have been preparing all season. We just wanted to come out and play. I am not looking at this as a showcase. I just try to hit the ball hard and whatever happens happens. God takes care of everything."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.