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McWilliams hurls West Lauderdale past New Hope


Adam Minichino



COLLINSVILLE -- Dustin McWilliams wiped out all of the New Hope High School baseball team''s momentum Thursday night. 


Wes Stokes will try to finish the job tonight. 


McWilliams pitched a complete-game five-hitter and West Lauderdale scored six unearned runs in an 11-4 victory in game one of the best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Class 4A North Half state title series at Jerry Boatner Field. 


Game two will be at 4 p.m. today in Columbus. 


The Trojans (24-10) will have to win that game to force a game three at 6 p.m. Saturday in Collinsville. 


To accomplish that goal, New Hope will have to limit its mistakes. The Trojans committed only two errors, but the Knights (27-6) made them pay dearly for both. 


"It''s a three-game series, and we have to win one game here," New Hope coach Stacy Hester said. "We knew coming in that unless McWilliams was off we were going to have a hard time. The first inning we gave them five unearned runs. ... We kept battling, but the kid is good. Give him credit. I told out kids I have every confidence in them because look at what they have done the last three weeks. 


"It isn''t that the wheels came off because we played good, but Dillon (Hawkins) didn''t pitch well, the one error (in the first inning) cost us, and the mistake in the second inning cost us a little bit." 


New Hope was coming off a 16-7 victory against Saltillo that helped it clinch a spot in the North Half title series. That victory on the road might have been the team''s most complete effort of the season. 


On Thursday, though, the Trojans didn''t start quickly. McWilliams had a lot to do with that. 


The senior left-hander, who defeated New Hope twice in the regular season, allowed a one-out double to Will McReynolds in the first. McReynolds went to third on a groundout by Hilton Gibson, but McWilliams struck out cleanup hitter Phillip Tice, one of New Hope''s hottest hitters, to get out of the first after throwing 22 pitches. 


The Trojans touched McWilliams for a single run in the third thanks to a double by Josh Ferguson and an infield throwing error, but it only cut the Knights'' lead to 8-1. 


McWilliams allowed three more runs in the sixth, but he walked only one and struck out nine to push the Trojans to the brink of elimination. 


West Lauderdale struck with two outs in the bottom of the first against Hawkins. Darren Farmer and Jamie Byrd singled and Stokes reached on a throwing error by shortstop Brent Younger. Three more singles and a hit batter paved the way for five unearned runs. 


The Knights added to the lead in the second. Two walks, two singles, a hit batter, and a wild pitch added up to three more runs that gave McWilliams a cushion that was never seriously challenged. 


"I knew if McWilliams was going to be on it was going to be hard to beat him," West Lauderdale coach Jerry Boatner said. "It is hard to score five runs against him the way he has been pitching most of the year. The last couple of games he has been a little bit off, but he was on tonight. I felt more at ease after we got the five runs." 


Boatner said McWilliams has been pitching confidently all season. Even though he didn''t reach double-digit strikeouts like he did in both previous outings against New Hope, McWilliams stayed ahead of hitters and used a mix of fastballs, curveballs, and changeups to keep the Trojans guessing. 


New Hope moved the start time of tonight''s game up to help the players have time to attend the school''s prom tonight. 


A victory in today''s game would mean the Trojans would have to remain focused through the evening''s festivities to have a chance to earn a series clinching victory Saturday in Collinsville. 


Hester believes his team can accomplish both goals. 


"It''s a game of momentum, We just never did get it," Hester said. "I have every confidence in the world that we are going to come back and play hard and, hopefully, get back here Saturday. 


"Sometimes you can''t understand why we don''t have a good game. We can''t say that in the last three weeks because this is the first time we haven''t played well. You factor in a great pitcher who has owned us all year, we strike out nine times, they put the ball in play. We just didn''t compete as hard as we should. I just think our kids the way they have played the last three weeks, I think they are going to come back Friday. We just have to roll the dice and see what pitcher is going to be able to step up for us." 


Hester has Blake Roberts, Jake Smith, and Jake Upton to choose from to start tonight. Smith and Upton start in center field and at catcher, respectively. 


Regardless of which pitcher gets the ball, Hester said he will have a quick hook because he knows the Trojans can''t afford to fall behind, especially by more than a few runs, early in the game. 


"We have some guys ready to go," Hester said. "Blake (Roberts) can pitch well and we have a lot of pitchers ready, but we have to do a better job of locating. They''re going to hit a mistake pitch, and we hit a lot of them tonight, even though we gave up some unearned runs. They outhit us and they outplayed us." 


Boatner, who will celebrate his 64th birthday Sunday, was presented with a birthday cake after the game. He hopes a victory tonight will help him take a step closer capturing to the program''s 12th state title. 


"It is going to be tough. I know they are going to be hard to beat there," Boatner said. "We probably made them mad tonight, but I feel confident with Stokes. He has pitching good. Hopefully our bats came to life tonight and it will carry over to tomorrow." 


Davis Lee had an RBI single and Jake Upton had a two-run double in the sixth to account for New Hope''s scoring. 


Kameron Heiser had three hits, including a home run, and four RBIs, and McWilliams also had a home run. 


Caleb Melton added three hits and three RBIs for West Lauderdale. 


Hawkins allowed seven hits and eight runs (three earned) in 1 2/3 innings. 


Gabe Franks allowed seven hits and three runs (two earned) in 4 1/3 innings of relief. 





Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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