April 2, 2009
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
Dustin McWilliams likes to talk to himself on the mound.
The West Lauderdale left-hander feels his verbal repartee helps keep him focused and prepared for any situation.
That''s why a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the third inning Wednesday night didn''t faze him.
"I just had to settle down and throw strikes and to work different pitches in there to see if they would swing at them," McWilliams said. "I just had to settle down, throw strikes, and calm down."
McWilliams did just that, striking out the final two hitters in the inning to escape further damage. His ability to work out of trouble gave West Lauderdale the pitching it needed on a night when it hit four home runs in a 7-3 victory in a Class 4A-District 4 game at Trojan Field.
McWilliams (4-2) admitted he felt he had "gotten caught up in the moment" and that he had to take a deep breath and regroup.
He easily found the right words to regroup.
"You have to get yourself out of this. Just throw strikes, calm down, and work the pitches," McWilliams said.
McWilliams struck out Hilton Gibson and Philip Tice to get out of the third allowing only one run and to help him preserve a 5-1 lead.
McWilliams struck out the next four batters in a row en route to a 13-strikeout, one-walk effort.
His complete-game effort Wednesday wasn''t as strong as a 17-strikeout performance in a 4-3 victory against New Hope earlier this season, but that depends on the source.
"Last game (against New Hope), I was pretty weak," McWilliams said. "This game, I felt better but not at my best. It''s just the way that I pitch."
McWilliams said he felt tired in the first meeting against New Hope but still earned the victory. On Wednesday, he scattered seven hits and pounded the strike zone with a curveball that he has confidence in to throw anytime in a count.
"I like to throwing a first-pitch curveball," McWilliams said. "I like throwing a curveball behind in a count. When I get the curveball I come in with a fastball. If they swing at a fastball, I come in with a changeup. I do have command of all three pitches, and that is something every pitcher should have."
West Lauderdale coach Jerry Boatner didn''t need to pace as much as he did with McWilliams on the mound.
"He wasn''t near as sharp as he has been," Boatner said. "It has been about a week and a half since he pitched, but I thought he was awesome tonight. He gave us exactly what we needed."
Boatner said McWilliams averages 14 strikeouts and a little more than a walk every seven innings. The left-hander used strong command of his fastball, changeup, and curveball to get ahead in the count most of the evening, which forced the Trojans to swing at his pitches.
"With good hitters, you want to work the outside corner of the plate and get them to go to the opposite field, which is something hitters don''t do often," McWilliams said. "They want to try to pull the ball because it is their strongest point."
New Hope coach Stacy Hester liked how his team rallied late in the game despite the loss. The Trojans (14-8, 6-3 district) put the two runners on in the sixth and didn''t score, and then tacked on two runs thanks in part to singles by Josh Ferguson and Gibson.
He credited McWilliams for pitching equally as well as he did in the teams'' first meeting.
"He has a good enough fastball where you can''t think you''re going to sit back and hit the fastball because he has a great changeup and a great curve," Hester said. "He has command of three pitches and he can throw them for strikes. He did the same thing he did against us the first time."
Hester lamented the Trojans'' inability to cash in more runs in the third. A double by Jake Upton, a single by Jake Smith, an infield single by Ferguson, and a walk to Will McReynolds gave the Trojans their first run, but that was all they managed until the final frame.
"You have Nos. 3 and 4 up and they strike out," Hester said. "He had two innings in a row that he struck out the side."
On the other side, Blake Roberts (8-1) couldn''t make the final pitch to escape trouble. He allowed two runs in the second and had two outs and two strikes on McWilliams in the third before the left-handed hitting pitcher hit his team''s first home run of the night.
Darren Farmer doubled and scored on Jamie Byrd''s home run to make it 5-0.
Roberts lasted into the fifth when he surrendered a home run to Farmer. Derrick Saucer came on in relief and allowed a home run to Byrd.
In all, West Lauderdale (13-6, 7-2) had four doubles and four home runs in a 14-hit evening.
"I can''t say enough about how well we hit the ball hard," Boatner said. "We had some hard outs and had four home runs and four or five other extra-base hits. I was ecstatic about the way we hit the ball. It probably was the best game that we have played all year."
Boatner, whose team lost to Caledonia 4-3 on Monday, arrived in Columbus thinking the New Hope baseball team beat Neshoba Central on Monday. But he didn''t find out until just before gametime that the New Hope softball team edged Neshoba Central 7-6.
Still, West Lauderdale doesn''t have much room to relax if it wants to hold on to first place in the district. The Knights have district games remaining against Caledonia, West Point, and Kosciusko.
New Hope has district games remaining against Caledonia, Noxubee County, and Neshoba Central. It concludes the season with games against Houston and Columbus.
"Give them credit. They hit about everything we threw," Hester said. "I don''t know how bad Blake was, but they were a lot better than how bad he was in that every pitch he made a mistake on they turned on it. When you have four doubles and four home runs in the first five innings, they are doing something really good."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.