May 8, 2010 11:55:00 PM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
Two weeks ago, Chris Chism told his players his fourth season would be his last as the coach of the Hernando High School baseball team.
The Tigers are doing everything they can to make Chism''s final run a memorable one.
Cody Camp and David Hinkle had RBI singles in the top of the seventh inning to help Hernando beat New Hope 5-3 in Game 2 and sweep its best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A playoff series.
"It is a big series, obviously, for me because I am coming back home," said Chism, a former New Hope High player and coach. "I have a lot of friends and family here. I am really more excited for the kids because they have worked extremely hard this season. I couldn''t be prouder of our kids."
Hernando (18-7) used a walkoff solo home run by Jon Vernon on Friday to win Game 1 6-5 in 11 innings.
The loss ended the high school careers of nine New Hope seniors. The Trojans (23-8) managed just five hits against two pitchers. They scored their first two runs Saturday in the third inning with the help of four errors. A sacrifice fly by Jared Shelton in the fourth inning gave New Hope a 3-2 lead, but the Trojans didn''t get another hit until the seventh. With two outs, Davis Lee and Jake Smith singled, but senior right-hander Matthew Johnson retired Brent Younger on a popup to shortstop to end the game.
New Hope first-year coach Lee Boyd praised his team for a solid season, but credited Hernando for making the plays when it needed to and for delivering timely hits in the clutch.
"We just didn''t peak at the right time," Boyd said. "I thought toward the end of the regular season, especially the Saltillo game (a 13-3 victory at home), we were peaking at the point. We had been swinging the bat extremely well and pitching well and everything was kind of coming together. Then we beat West Lauderdale and had a week off before the playoffs. I really wished we could have started the next day because we were hot. We beat Neshoba Central in three games, but we really didn''t swing the bat well in that series."
New Hope didn''t show the hitting firepower it exhibited from the middle to late in the regular season against Hernando, either. On Friday, Boyd said the Trojans failed to get enough timely hits to put the Tigers away. The Trojans twice had two-run leads only to watch the Tigers rally. Boyd praised the effort of Smith, who came on in relief of starting pitcher Jake Upton and struck out 12 in 6 2/3 innings.
But Vernon''s home run to right field, his first of the season, ended the three-plus hour marathon and gave the Tigers the momentum heading to Columbus.
On Saturday, Boyd said starting pitcher Drew Rutledge, a left-hander, might have thrown the tempo of his hitters off. He said he used his changeup and breaking pitches to get the New Hope hitters out front. As a result, they hit too many balls in the air for outs.
Chism said he talked with his assistant coaches on the three-plus hour bus ride to Lowndes County and wondered how the players would respond. True to the form they showed after an 0-4 start to the season, the Tigers answered the call and used a fine pitching effort from Rutledge and Johnson to hold the Trojans at bay.
"We hit some balls, especially early, that were hit hard," Boyd said. "Davis'' ball (in the first inning) is probably off the scoreboard if the wind is not blowing. We had several more balls that I thought would have been gap shots, but that is just part of it."
Boyd also was pleased with the effort of his starting pitcher, Blake Roberts. The senior right-hander allowed nine hits, but threw plenty of groundballs and was victimized by four errors that led to five unearned runs.
"We kicked it around, but that is baseball," Boyd said. "You''re going to make errors. You look at their stats before the series and they had an eight-something fielding percentage, which is not very good. But they made all of the plays. They deserve it. They played hard and played well and got hits with guys on base. We couldn''t come through with the big hit."
One of New Hope''s errors came in the sixth and helped the Tigers tie the game thanks to Hunter Groeneveld''s single.
In the seventh, Vernon reached on an error to start the inning and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Camp followed with a single to left field. Lee''s throw took catcher Upton a little up the first-base line and gave Vernon just enough time to slide in before the tag. Hinkle followed with another single to left. This time, Camp slid under Upton, who tagged him on the feet as his touched home.
"I would say midway through the season we started to swing the bats," Chism said. "Early in the season, there was so much snow and ice and we don''t have an indoor facility. We were borrowing a place to hit for an hour a day and we were really behind"
The runs were a fitting continuation to a season Chism said has been filled with clutch performances and players. On paper, some people might have thought New Hope was destined to play Ridgeland in the next round for a chance to play for a state title.
Instead, the Tigers have helped Chism extend his final season. He said he has gotten into school at the University of Mississippi and plans to become an administrator. He said he has pushed his seniors to "fight to the bitter end" and was pleased with how all of his players did just that Saturday.
Chism capped the evening with two left-handed fist pumps and a body bump with one of his catchers as he returned to the celebratory huddle after the game.
"They did a great job of battling," Chism said. "I know I have said it a thousand times, but I couldn''t be prouder of these kids. They have worked their tails off."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.