May 10, 2013 11:11:19 AM
Don't let the record fool you. The New Hope High School baseball team has experienced its share of adversity this season.
The Trojans haven't had to recover from devastating injuries. Instead, coach Lee Boyd's team had to survive a late-season swoon that nearly derailed a solid start.
Now that New Hope has put losses to Oxford, Northridge (Ala.), Columbus, and Amory behind it, Boyd feels his team is hitting its stride.
"We went through a bad spell and we had kind of had a string of bad luck and we lost some close games, but I always told the kids if we play our game we're going to be good," Boyd said. "I always tell them you can find out a lot about a person when things are not going well for you. It is easy to play the game when you're winning, so maybe that little spell did us some good."
The only question that remains is when the Trojans will take the field again. New Hope (21-8) is scheduled to play Ridgeland at 7 tonight in game one of their Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State semifinal. Rain today and Saturday could alter those plans and force New Hope, which is scheduled to play host to game two at 7 p.m. Saturday, to play a home game Sunday. If that happens, a game three, if needed, would be pushed to Monday.
The teams will need to get their series completed as quickly as possible. The best-of-three North State title series are scheduled for May 16-18. The state championship series are scheduled for May 22-27 at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
New Hope found its footing with 12-2 and 14-4 victories against Lake Cormorant in the North State play-in round. The Trojans needed only 10 1/2 innings to earn the sweep. New Hope lost to Yazoo City 7-6 in game one of the next series only to rebound with a nine-run outburst in the bottom of the first inning en route to a 12-2 mercy-rule victory. The Trojans capped the rally with a 13-hit effort in game three that helped them earn a 9-5 victory.
"We have played really good the past two weeks, but we had a rough two-week spell where it seemed like nothing was going right for us," senior Landon Boyd said. "These past two playoff weeks we have played as a team and hit the ball. If we do that, I think we're going to be fine. We have a good shot of winning the whole thing. We just have to keep playing and doing what we do."
Boyd said the team didn't seem to be itself. The Trojans didn't panic, though, and they knew time would help everyone find their footing. Boyd and classmate Tee Payne and juniors Will Golsan and Taylor Stafford agreed that the New Hope team that lost to Amory, Northridge (Ala.), and Columbus in the final weeks of the regular season didn't make any drastic changes to become the team that is still alive today.
Instead, the players said they relied on team chemistry and a confidence that made them believe they would pull through and get back to playing up to their potential.
"We knew our talents and how good we could be," Payne said. "It was like the baseball gods were just telling us y'all weren't going to win. When it came down to playoff season, we buckled down."
Said Golsan, "Winning a few got us back on track. We're rolling right now."
Coach Boyd feels the team has been battle-tested with a 20-plus victory season. He felt his team played well even in a one-run loss to Yazoo City, and he looks forward to seeing how his team competes with Ridgeland, another one of the state's most respected programs.
"We had to regroup and regather," Boyd said. "Sometimes when you continue to win your head kind of swells. ... When you lose a game, you say, 'We have to get better, we have to get better, we have to get better.' Maybe that helped us. We'll see."
Boyd wondered if New Hope would be able to regain its rhythm following an 8-1 loss to Oxford on April 9 in Columbus. The loss helped the Chargers take two of three in the regular season from the Trojans and win the district title. New Hope then survived close calls against West Point (1-0) and Saltillo (6-4) to finish as the runner-up to Oxford in the district.
"I don't think we changed anything as far as our philosophy and what we do as a team," Boyd said. "We had to get mentally tougher. I use that Columbus game (a 7-6 loss) as an example. We had that one bad inning and it was like we lost complete control of everything. I told the guys if they had toughened up there and cut it down to three or four runs instead of seven you probably win that game. I hope we grew from that little experience."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.