May 29, 2009
The Columbus High School baseball team''s 2010 team started Thursday night.
Josh Tentoni, Tyji Hawkins, and the rest of the Falcons intend to make that season a success.
Tentoni had four hits and Hawkins added two and a strong pitching performance to help Columbus beat East Webster 4-3 and 11-3 in the Dizzy Dean opener for both teams at Sammy Fletcher Field.
Nick Durrah also had three hits, including the game-winning RBI in the bottom of the seventh to help Columbus turn the page.
Thursday''s games were the first for the baseball program without mainstay Billy Autrey, outfielder/pitcher Dylan Anderson, and pitcher Austin Stovall. Each of the three seniors played key roles in the program, but the Falcons will have to adjust without their team leaders.
Columbus coach Jeff Cook believes the players are ready to accept that challenge.
"I think our guys have responded that way," Cook said. "Josh and Tyji have really kind of stepped up leadership (wise). They had kids out here today earlier on their own. The attitudes have really changed for the better. They are working harder, and they are tired of not doing the best they can."
Cook expects Tentoni, Hawkins, and Stefan Hairston to be three key performers for the high school baseball team next year. He also believes Avery Ford (football camp) and Tyler Mason (sick) also can play key roles with Durrah, second baseman Dylan Patel, and infielder/designated hitter Aurby Burdine.
Tentoni, who caught both games of the doubleheader, will be expected to anchor the high school team''s defense next year. He had three singles and a sacrifice fly in game one and a three-run triple in game two.
Tentoni hopes to use an offseason that will include plenty of travel baseball with the Mississippi prospects and a trip with his CHS teammates to the Delta State team baseball camp to prepare himself for a leadership role in his final high school season.
"Without Billy it''s going to be hard," Tentoni said. "Next year is going to be a big expectation for us. This year was supposed to be a big expectation, but it didn''t turn out the way we wanted it to."
Tentoni said experience was a key for Columbus this high school season. He said the team played well in non-district games but didn''t play as loose in district games. He said the team easily could have reached the playoffs if it made all of the easy plays.
Columbus overcame six errors in game one to take the first step toward building an experience team that is ready to compete in the district.
"We need senior leadership," Cook said. "We challenged those guys at the end of the year. We''re waiting on one class to step up and try to change everything. We are trying to get those guys to be the group that changes it all."
The Dizzy Dean season will give Cook an opportunity to see how younger players like Christian Dale, Trace Lee, P.J. Lowe and Byke and Jimmy Cockrell can fit in with a program that hopes to learn lessons from a disappointing 2009 high school season.
Cook said the upperclassmen are doing the little things and have the right mind-set to handle the responsibility. He feels they might have been waiting their turn to lead the team, and he hopes Thursday''s effort is just the start, especially for Hawkins, who was dominating early in game two.
"We were counting on him this past year to really be our No. 1 guy," Cook said. "He knows he fell short of what he could do, and we challenged him really hard as soon as the season ended, and we''re counting on him to step up. We need Josh and all of these other guys, but Tyji is a huge key for us on the mound."
While Columbus has an experienced group returning for the 2010 season, coach Wes Johnson will have to replace the members of a senior class that helped East Webster win the 2008 Class 1A state title and make a deep run in the playoffs this season.
Jermaine Liggins, Blake Love, Christopher Gordon, and Reggie O''Briant all signed national letters of intent to play baseball at Holmes Community College. Tanner Roberson, who pitched for the Wolverines, also will go to Holmes C.C. to play football.
Those graduation losses and other might send a program into rebuilding mode, but Anthony Hendrix, who filled in for Johnson on Thursday night, said East Webster should have plenty of players ready to compete for playing time. He said May and June will be the time for those players to make an impression.
"They have the potential to be pretty good," Hendrix said. "Give them some playing time and some experience and they will be a real competitive team."
Hendrix said developing team chemistry and the trust in each other will be key if the Wolverines want to build on the success of previous classes. He said the varsity team will carry 17 players, which means plenty of time at different positions for many of them.
"We will have a few seniors, but most of them will be juniors and sophomores," Hendrix said. "I would hope they would (look at what the juniors and seniors accomplished the past few years). They are good building blocks because most of those kids started for the past three years and knew how to play ball and knew what to do. If they can fill in their footsteps a little bit they should do well."
Ty Hendrix, Cody Silver, and Jamie McKey each pitched two innings in game one for East Webster before Columbus rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh against Hayden Hendrix.
Conner Burton (RBI) and Ty Hendrix had the team''s only hits in game one.
Silver added two RBIs and two doubles in game two.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.