March 12, 2014 9:05:53 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
Wells Davis and Josh Stillman want to be themselves.
If that means being two more pieces to the puzzle for the New Hope High School baseball team, that's fine with them.
Judging from Tuesday night's performance, those pieces are coming together nicely for the defending state champions.
Davis drove in two runs in the first inning, while Stillman added another two-run hit in the second and then backed the work with a solid five innings on the mound to lead New Hope to a 14-4 victory against Starkville (5-2) at Trojan Field.
New Hope (7-0) scored in every inning but the fourth. The Trojans capitalized on two errors to score five runs in the sixth to force the mercy rule.
Stillman, a junior right-hander, allowed a single to Tanner Clanton through five innings. He tired in the sixth, surrendering a single to Clanton, a triple to A.J. Brown, and a single to J.D. Taylor before he hit Parker Lemm. New Hope coach Lee Boyd lifted Stillman and brought in J.D. Redden, who allowed one of the inherited runners to score on a wild pitch, but he worked out of the jam with a strike out and a fly out.
Stillman said he isn't trying to step into an opening left in the rotation by the graduation of right-hander Landon Boyd, but he knows the chance is there for him to be a starter the Trojans count on in a rotation that also includes Taylor Stafford, Will Golsan, and Redden.
"We had a lot of depth (in the rotation) last year, and I think we do this year," Stillman said. "I expected myself to step up this year because I knew we were losing (Landon) and he was a big part of our team."
Stillman said he has added 20 pounds since last year. He attributed the weight gain to working out with Davis. He said the strength has helped a "scrawny" right-hander grow to a 160-pounder with a fastball that has been clocked at 84 mph.
With hitters like Golsan, Rooke Coleman, and Stafford at the top of the lineup, Davis, who hits in the No. 5 slot behind Payton Lane, knows he and Lane don't have to be run producers every game. After getting only 12 at-bats in the regular season in 2013 playing behind Tee Payne, Davis had more at-bats in the postseason due to an injury to catcher Jake Hollis. Davis hopes an offseason in which he added 15 pounds thanks to work in the weight room will help him take advantage of his opportunity.
"You don't want to leave your mark as he was Tee Payne's backup," Davis said. "You want to step in and do the best you and have people remember you. I learned a lot from Tee Payne, and I enjoyed playing with him, but it is good to get my time to play."
Boyd said all of the Trojans understand they don't need to be a Superman for the team to win games. If everyone plays their role and contributes, he likes the team's chances to defend its Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state title.
"We knew (Wells and Josh) were really going to have to come in and play roles for us this year," Boyd said. "Both of them had roles last year. ... I knew Josh was going to come in and take Landon's spot in the rotation, and he has done wonderful. He threw well. He mixes all of his four pitches and pounds the strike zone.
"Last year, Wells was great defensively. I thought he was a little bit behind early in the season last year as a sophomore for varsity pitching, and he kind of caught up toward the end of the year. This year, he has come on, and he and Lane have been in the middle of the order. Wells has hit the ball well for the first week and a half of the season. We hope that continues."
Starkville coach Travis Garner started six sophomores Tuesday and hopes the experience will help prepare the team for later in the season. He credited an experienced New Hope squad for taking advantage of his team's mistakes, but he doesn't feel the Trojans are 10 runs better.
"The unfortunate thing about it is up until this point is I think we have made four errors in six games," Garner said. "Today was just a colossal mess. I was glad to see us bounce back to run it back to 9-4. We had two or three chances to get out of the last inning, but we didn't. They are a good ballclub. They have a lot of kids back from a state championship. A lot of credit goes to those guys."
New Hope will play host to Covington (Tenn). at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday.
n In other action Tuesday, Hunter Mullis improved to 3-0 in leading the Columbus High baseball team to a 4-1 victory against Kossuth. Houston also defeated West Point 12-2 in five innings.
Thomas Cooper scattered five hits and struck out three in Heritage Academy's 12-2 victory against Tuscaloosa Academy in six innings.
The Patriots (4-6) scored six runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to force the 10-run mercy rule.
Tanner Fittes had three hits and two RBIs, Jared Thorton had two hits, and Mark Thatcher and Tyler Anderson each had two RBIs.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.