May 27, 2010 8:46:00 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
HAMILTON -- Dylan Earnest and Chase Reeves want to write a different ending.
For the past three seasons, Earnest and Reeves have seen their Hamilton High School baseball seasons end on the wrong note.
In 2007, Hamilton lost to Gulfport St. John in two games in the Class 1A State title series.
In 2008, Richton defeated Hamilton 6-5 in game three to take the Class 2A crown.
Last year, Water Valley eliminated Hamilton in the Class 2A North Half State semifinals.
This year, a judge''s ruling appears to have given Earnest, Reeves, and the Lions another chance.
The decision of Hinds County Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas on Monday to deny an injunction filed by the Bruce High School baseball team and to rule in favor of the Mississippi High School Activities Association has set the stage for Hamilton (22-4) to play Richton at 7 tonight in game one of the best-of-three MHSAA Class 2A State title series.
Bruce High had appealed a decision by MHSAA Executive Director Dr. Ennis Proctor that it had to forfeit its 6-5 victory against Hamilton in game three of their best-of-three Class 2A North State Championship on May 15.
Hamilton, which defeated Bruce in three of the other four games this season, hopes it can add to the tradition of a program that won state titles in 1997, ''99, and 2001.
The Lions also finished as the runner-up in 1996, ''98, 2000, and ''03.
"You feel like everybody comes to watch you," Reeves said. "They have seen teams from the past win it and we have been there twice and we haven''t been able to get it done. ... We have been so close every year we just can''t seem to find it. This year, we have a good group of seniors. I think this year might just be there year. It doesn''t matter how we got there, we''re there. If it is meant to be it will be."
Against Water Valley, Hamilton committed five errors in losing game one 6-5. It then mustered only five hits and struck out seven times in falling 2-0 in game two.
The Lions enter this year''s title series hitting .348 as a team. They have hit only 17 home runs, including four by Reeves and three by Earnest, but the long ball doesn''t figure to be as big a factor in Trustmark Park, the home of the Mississippi Braves, the Double-AA affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.
That''s fine with Hamilton, which figures to rely on Earnest (11-0, 0.76 ERA) to help set the tone on the mound in game one. The senior left-hander, who will play baseball at Itawamba Community College in the fall, has completed all 11 of his starts and also has two saves. He has struck out 105 and walked 11 in 73 1/3 innings.
Earnest took the loss in game one and in game three in 2008 against Richton. He struck out 12 and allowed only five hits in the opener, a 4-2 loss. Hamilton committed four errors in the game.
JaCoby Jones, a mainstay on Richton''s team this season, earned the victory with a complete-game five-hitter.
Reeves struck out eight in a four-hit, 1-0 victory in game two, but Richton scored five runs on five hits in the third inning of game three to take the lead. It scored the go-ahead run in the fifth and had only one other hit against Earnest in the game.
In 2007, Reeves allowed 13 runs and six hits in a 25-10 loss to St. John in game one. Earnest surrendered six hits in six innings in game two, a 4-3 loss.
St. John won the game in the bottom of the seventh when Reeves couldn''t pick up a flyball. He admitted after the game he was "trying to do too much."
Earnest said last week there was no way Reeves, who has given a verbal commitment to play baseball at the University of Mississippi, would have been able to throw out the runner, who was moving with the pitch.
But that doesn''t mean both players wouldn''t want to erase those memories and those from the past two seasons with a championship performance this season.
"I think after being there twice we will be more prepared and probably play better defense," Earnest said. "I think that will be the biggest thing."
Earnest also has been a leader at the plate for the Lions. He leads all regulars with a .466 batting average as well as in hits (40, tied with Kevin McCartney) and in RBIs (33).
Reeves, a junior left-hander, has overcome arm trouble early in the season to have a solid season. He is hitting .395 with four home runs and 24 RBIs. He is 2-1 in seven games this season. He has 11 strikeouts and 16 walks in 21 innings.
Reeves said he has good memories from past title appearances, but that this year is another opportunity to give the Hamilton seniors a chance to end their careers the right way.
"You want to get a ring, so until you get that it is like something is not there," Reeves said. "Second place doesn''t do you any good."
Earnest said both teams will know plenty about the other, even if it is two years removed from their last title series. He said his job is simple: He has to throw strikes and prevent Richton''s power-hitting attack from flexing its muscles.
"I have to do the same thing I have been doing," Earnest said. "I feel like I have gotten a lot better since my 10th-grade year, and I am sure they feel they have gotten better since their 10-grade year, too. It is a matter of going out there and competing and whoever has the best game will win."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.