April 17, 2009
Stacy Hester knows his New Hope High School baseball team has plenty of confidence.
Comments from senior outfielder/catcher Will McReynolds last week highlighted how much the Trojans believe in themselves.
But Hester also knows that starting tonight all the talk in the world won''t win a team a baseball game.
That''s why he''s curious to see how his team responds at 6 tonight when it plays host to Hernando in game one of its best-of-three Class 4A first-round playoff series.
New Hope (18-9) finished third in District 4 and will travel to Hernando on Saturday to play game two. The third game, if needed, also will be played Saturday.
"The (nine) seniors want to do well and have been talking about having a big celebration," Hester said. "They have been carrying around a picture of our 2003 team when we won it last and had a big pileup. That always has been their goal."
After a 6-5 start to the season, New Hope has played well down the stretch. It''s just that Hester and his players feel things could have been a little better. The team lost five games by one run and suffered home losses to West Lauderdale and to Neshoba Central in the final weeks of the regular season that dropped it to the No. 3 seed in the district.
New Hope regrouped last Saturday to beat Columbus 11-5 in its regular-season finale. After the game, McReynolds said New Hope had all of the talent to win a state title, and that it would win a state championship.
McReynolds vowed to be the kind of leader who kept his teammates up after mistakes and bad at-bats. He and the rest of the Trojans will get their opportunities to be that kind of player tonight.
Hester knows the Trojans have it in them, and he believes one or two good things will have to happen to give his team the momentum it needs.
"If everything clicks for us and the kids do the pitching and get the timely hitting and make the basic plays, (we''ll be OK)," Hester said. "I think our kids want to be the type of team (that refuses to lose). But when you have lost nine games, including five by one run, you start wondering can we be the type of team that we want to be."
Hester said right-hander Dillon Hawkins will start tonight. He said Blake Roberts, the team''s No. 1 pitcher for most of the season, has suffered from some arm fatigue this week and that his status for the series is uncertain.
Still, with Jake Upton, Jake Smith, Gabe Franks, and others, Hester feels the Trojans have enough pitching depth. He said the key will be capitalizing on Hernando''s mistakes and getting the big hit in clutch situations.
"They feel like they have the team and the personnel to do, and we as coaches feel the same way," Hester said. "You have to have all of those intangibles and get some breaks and some calls.
"It has been six years since we won a state championship. I know going into the season the players felt we could make a run. They took that picture to a lot of games, and I believe we can make a run. We have to do it on the field."
Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest also hopes his team can live up to its potential when it takes the field at 4:30 p.m. today at O''Bannon.
Earnest tried to get O''Bannon to come to Hamilton to play a doubleheader. He offered to pay the team and to feed the players, but the Lions will have to travel today. They will return home to play host to game two at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Hamilton went 17-5 in the regular season and 8-2 in its district, which was good enough for first place.
But Earnest said things haven''t gone as smoothly as he would have thought this season. While left-handed pitchers Chase Reeves and Dylan Earnest have been dominating (Reeves has a 0.00 ERA, while Earnest''s is below 2.00), coach Earnest said the team hasn''t been as aggressive at the plate as he thought it would.
As a result, the Lions have squandered several big leads. They also have made key mistakes other times that have left the pitchers without as much support as they deserve.
Today, Earnest hopes everything will come together.
"We really haven''t played up to our potential," Earnest said. "We have pitched well but the games we lost were not due to pitching. They were mainly due to a lack of run support. We had one or two bad innings on defense."
Earnest said the Lions haven''t had a streak when they have clicked and gotten on a roll. He said the lineup will produce hits but just not at the same time.
I haven''t been able to put my finger on it," Earnest said. "We have been working on it, and, hopefully, we will come around. Maybe the playoffs will help wake us up and put a fire under us."
Devin Hopper, Reeves, Isaac Winders, and Kevin McCartney have are the team''s hitting leaders.
n Heritage Academy takes third at Magnolia Heights: At Senatobia, Will Swedenburg shot a 75 to earn medalist honors Thursday as the Patriots finished third in the 14-team field.
Swedenburg, a junior, earned his second medalist honor of the season with his first playoff victory of the year.
Pillow Academy won the event, which heritage Academy had won the previous two seasons. It shot a 329 and beat Magnolia Heights in a playoff.
Heritage Academy shot a 333.
Cade Lott (87), Bryce Rader (89), Hunter Brown (91), Jase Dalrymple (90), and Hunter Brown (82) also scored for the Patriots.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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