February 27, 2010 11:03:00 PM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
Chad Williams was wearing his hat out.
A tug here. another tug there. Soon the hat was off the Amory High School baseball coach''s head.
It didn''t take long for Williams to start jawing with his players and pacing the dugout like he was West Lauderdale coach Jerry Boatner.
Williams couldn''t help but think back to last season when New Hope capped a five-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning with a bases-loaded walk to beat Amory 12-11.
With two runners on base and Amory clinging to a two-run lead in the bottom of the seventh Friday, Williams didn''t want a repeat performance, so he tugged at his hat again and hoped for the best.
Thankfully, Williams'' hat will live to see another game.
Reliever Chandler Riggs recorded the final two outs to help Amory beat New Hope 4-2 at Trojan Field.
Riggs struck out Brent Younger and retired Philip Tice on a fielder''s choice to help Amory (1-0) spoil the debut of New Hope coach Lee Boyd.
Cox, a junior right-hander, Blake Allen, a senior right-hander, and Riggs, a junior right-hander, combined to limit New Hope to six hits and to strike out 13.
Williams said his goal was not to allow any pitcher to throw more than 65 pitches. Cox threw 68, and each pitch after that, especially the ones by Allen and Riggs in the seventh, made Williams think back to last season.
"I think the guys are more mature than they were last year," Williams said. "Cox threw last year (against New Hope), and Riggs closed it down this year. I was definitely pleased with that."
Williams said he believes in yelling in the dugout because he feels it gets his younger kids in the game. He kept his players alive by giving a low-five to his warmup catcher and pacing back and forth a la Boatner, who is known to move around the dugout area during a game.
Williams wasn''t as active as Boatner, but he didn''t have to be because the Panthers swung the bats well enough (seven hits) and executed in other areas.
"I was really impressed with the way we swung the bats because we had not played in a jamboree," Williams said. "That is quality pitching. We can play some other team that is not very good, but we''re not going to get quality at-bats. We''re trying to get ready for the district."
Williams anticipates a tough district race with Caledonia, Houston, Kosciusko, Louisville, and Noxubee County. He said the Panthers will get more tests this week when they play host to their annual tournament, which begins Tuesday. The 10-team field includes New Hope, North Pontotoc, Houston, Oxford, Saltillo, Hernando, Nettleton, Fulton, and Hamilton.
Amory prepared for the event by getting a quick start against New Hope. Zack Randolph reached on an error to open the game and came around to score on a single by Cox.
With the score tied 1-1, Amory tacked on another run in the fifth thanks to an infield hit by Cole Carter, another infield hit by Forest Williams, a passed ball, and a sacrifice fly by Randolph.
The run scored thanks to heads-up baserunning by Carter, who worked a good lead from second base, read a pitch in the dirt, and broke immediately to take third base without a throw. The runner behind him also moved up but didn''t score.
Williams said he attended a clinic where the guest speaker said baserunning is like the "special teams" of the sport. He said the Panthers work as much as they can on getting good leads, reading wild pitches, and reacting quickly when they see an opportunity to advance.
"I am not going to say we''re great at it, but I thought at that time it was a great play," Williams said.
Amory''s pitching was just as good. Cox used fastballs to get ahead in the count and then worked the outside corner with a slider. The right-hander struck out nine in four innings and allowed just three hits.
Boyd didn''t make any excuses because of the cold weather or the fact that it was Feb. 26. He said the Trojans had scrimmaged seven or eight times and played last week at the jamboree at Columbus High, so he wasn''t expecting a performance like the one the Trojans delivered.
"We just have to be able to make adjustments," Boyd said. "You''re not going to beat a lot of teams when you have 13 strikeouts. The first guy was pretty competitive. He was pretty tough. He had a great slider, but we''re taking too many pitches. If you get behind 0-2 or 1-2 every time you get to bat, it is going to be extremely difficult for you to make an adjustment like that.
"We have to do a better job of putting the ball in play earlier in the count, especially with a guy who has a dominant pitch like that when you get behind. Thirteen strikeouts. We''re better than that, and we''re going to get better. There is no question about that."
Boyd also credited Cox for staying on the outside corner. New Hope failed to adjust and go to right field with the pitches.
As for his pitchers, Boyd credited starter and loser Dillon Hawkins, who allowed four hits and struck out five in 4 1/3 innings. He said Hawkins got behind hitters early in the game, which might have been the result of too much adrenaline. He said Jake Smith, who came in from center field in relief of Hawkins in the fifth inning, also pitched well.
"You give up four runs, you expect to win, but, like I said, 13 strikeouts is not going to get it done," Boyd said. "Offensively, we can''t go anywhere but up."
Younger had an RBI single in the third after Gabe Franks reached on an outfield error.
In the seventh, Seth Stillman doubled, went to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a groundout by Davis Lee. Dusty Dyson singled and Smith followed with another single. But Riggs retired the final two batters to seal the deal and set off a celebration in the Amory dugout.
"I told them when I scheduled this game because they would test us," Williams said. "They let us know where we are. That is a very good club. They hit two or three balls right at us that helped us get out of the inning. If we played them 10 more times it probably would be five to five in terms of wins. I thought their first pitcher threw a great game. I thought our first pitcher threw a great game."
Boyd will try again Tuesday at Houston to get his first victory as coach at New Hope. He told the Trojans after the game to forget the game and to use it to get better.
"I told them we have 26 games to get better," Boyd said. "They wanted to get that first game for me, and maybe they pressed too hard to get it. Like I told them guys, we don''t need to pout or to fret. We have to come back and get to work. We''re going to give our best effort. I am going to give min. I promise you that. ... I promise you we''re going to get better."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.