February 26, 2011 11:05:00 PM
February high school baseball games never follow a script.
It adds to the unpredictability of the action when your team doesn''t give up.
The New Hope High School baseball team showed Friday night that that trait could serve it very well this season.
Ryan Hill hit No. 9 hitter Josh Grimes with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning Friday night to help New Hope rally for a 13-12 victory in the season opener for both teams at Trojan Field.
The Trojans rallied for six runs in the final half inning thanks to five walks, three singles (one an infield hit), a fielder''s choice, and the hit by pitch.
New Hope High coach Lee Boyd didn''t imagine the final half inning would play out like he did, but he couldn''t help smile about his team''s tenacity.
"I tell my kids all of the time we fight to the last out, and they did that tonight," Boyd said. "I tell them all of the time, we''re not the most talented team, and they know that. We played a lot of games like that this summer, and we''re going to play hard until the final out and whatever happens happens."
Thomas Woodruff had a pinch-hit RBI single, and Zac Nagy had a two-run single to spark a rally in the seventh that picked up steam with each batter.
"It is contagious, especially offensively," Boyd said. "At this age group, you can get pitchers rattled very easily. With runners on base, it just creates pressure."
Amory senior Will Cox, who has signed to play at Mississippi State, and New Hope senior Dillon Hawkins, who has signed to play at East Mississippi Community College, started in a matchup of premier right-handers. Both were on pitch counts, with Cox going only the first three innings. He allowed three hits, walked two and struck out four. Hawkins pitched four innings and allowed five hits. Lee fell victim to walks, an error, a hit batter, a balk, and five hits in an eight-run fifth that helped Amory tale an 11-4 lead. New Hope answered with three in the bottom half of the inning to cut the deficit to 11-7.
Boyd acknowledged his team likely would have faced Cox longer if the game was played later in the season. And while his team committed plenty of correctable mistakes on errors in the infield and on an infield pop up that fell without anyone touching it, Boyd plans to use the comeback as a teaching tool.
"I told them we probably won''t win another game like that this year giving up eight runs in one inning," Boyd said. "We just had a complete letdown. You take away that one inning and we played a fair ballgame. We still have a lot of room to improve. We kicked the ball around a good bit, especially on the infield."
Nagy came on in relief of Peyton Lee in the top of the seventh. He recorded a strikeout to get the victory.
Amory tacked on what appeared to be an insurance run in the top of the seventh, but it wasn''t enough. Coach Chad Williams said his pitchers failed to pitch to contact and allowed a disappointing 14 walks.
"The silver lining is we had our guys on pitch counts, but we struggled with the strike zone and we didn''t take advantage of when we had breaks," Williams said. "They never quit. They never laid down. We just sort of laid down and let them take it from us."
Williams said his pitchers are encouraged to pitch to contact and to pitch ahead in counts. He saw neither of those things Friday night.
"At times I don''t think they could have hit my butt with me standing on the plate," Williams said. "When we learn heart we will be able to play and to win games. ... When things are not going your way, you can''t lay down. You have to suck it up. We didn''t find a way to get outs when we had to."
Even though it is February, Williams plans to use the game as a motivator because he wasn''t happy with his team''s showing.
"Most definitely it is not where we should be," Williams said. "We better bounce back (Saturday) and be ready to play the game the way it is supposed to be played and the way these guys have been taught how to play."
Amory did bounce back, beating Smithville 14-5 on Saturday. Forest Williams had a double, home run, and two RBIs, and John Randle, Chandler Riggs, and Channing French each had doubles.
Collin McCrory pitched three innings to get the victory. Williams wasn''t pleased, though, that the Panthers walked 10
With 22 players on his roster, Boyd said the victory should serve as a blueprint for how the Trojans will have to play. He said all of the players have to be ready to contribute in every capacity to help the team maximize its potential. The Trojans might not be fortunate to have another inning play out this season like the bottom of the seventh did Friday night, but Boyd will take it and hope his players maintain that never-quit attitude.
"We probably have 15 guys pushing for starting time," Boyd said. "I tell them all of the time, if you''re not starting it doesn''t mean you''re not going to be in the game at some point. I tell the kids to always be ready. I am extremely proud of them."
New Hope rebounded from the victory to beat Brookwood (Ala.) 7-6 on Saturday. Landon Boyd struck out eight in 4 2/3 innings to get the win. Trae Collins had a single, Jared Shelton had a double and a home run, Kameron Bryan had two singles, Nagy had a double, Lee had a single, and Grimes had a double.
Taylor Stafford earned the save. Brookwood made the game close in the sixth, scoring four runs on an inside-the-park grand slam that made it 7-6. Center fielder Collins nearly made the catch, but the ball got past him and rolled to the wall.
New Hope will play host to Starkville at 4 and 6 p.m. Tuesday, while Amory will play host to its annual tournament, which also begins Tuesday. Amory will play Nettleton at a time to be determined. The tournament continues Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.