May 7, 2010 9:53:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Survive and advance.
It sounds simple, but nothing is easy in high school athletics.
Even the most "outmanned" teams can give an opponent a test to remember.
Neshoba Central reminded the New Hope High School baseball team of that fact in the first round. The Rockets used stingy pitching and stout defense to stretch the Division 2, District 1 champions to three games before Blake Roberts'' complete-game effort pushed the Trojans to the second round.
New Hope hopes it has learned a lesson from the Neshoba Central games when it plays at 6 tonight at Hernando in Game 1 of the best-of-three second-round Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A second-round playoff series.
Game 2 will be at 6 p.m. Saturday at New Hope. An "if needed" Game 3 would be at 6 p.m. Monday at Hernando.
"It was a relief," New Hope senior catcher Jake Upton. "I think we needed that loss (Saturday) to know we can be beat. We have to come out and play hard next week."
Neshoba Central defeated New Hope 3-2 on Saturday in Philadelphia to push the series back to Columbus. The Trojans struggled all series to duplicate the potent hitting that helped them close the season with a flurry, which is why Upton said the Trojans have to deliver when they have runners in scoring position. New Hope left the bases loaded in the opening-round series at least three times. The missed opportunities made it even more difficult for the Trojans to pull away and magnified every mistake.
But Roberts, a senior right-hander, pitched a three-hitter Monday to help New Hope earn a 1-0 victory in game three. He agreed with Upton that the Trojans needed the loss and that it was good for the team.
"It''s a good thing to start over," Roberts said. "We thought we were unbeatable and the loss brought us back down to home."
Boyd knows about "going home." The first-year New Hope coach, who was an assistant coach for Brian Jones at Neshoba Central, was welcomed home by the Rockets fans Saturday. He received a similar welcome home from the Trojans'' fans in Game 3. He admitted to feeling a sense of relief after winning the series and credited Jones and the Rockets for making the Trojans earn everything they got.
Boyd hopes this round will be easier, but knows his team will face a test from a tough Hernando squad.
"Maybe putting our backs against the wall will help us in the long run," Boyd said. "I feel we came to (Game 2) too laid back or too confident. We beat their ace (senior left-hander Caleb McKee) on Friday and we got their No. 2 or their No. 3 guy, who wasn''t supposed to be as good and we might have been a little cocky. In Game 3 anything can happen. I think having the pressure on us, especially on my seniors, made a difference. I could tell this week in practice that it clicked with them and that the players realize that hey, we have to go."
Boyd said his players paid more attention to the little things in practice this week and worked even harder. He said players ran out groundballs and sprinted to second base on popups. He said that kind of urgency has to exist in everything the team does from this point.
"Going through that series, I think they''re going to be completely focused the rest of the way," Boyd said. "I think it is going to help our focus in the next series."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.