May 23, 2013 3:19:48 PM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
New Hope High School's baseball team remains on a mission.
After losing in last season's Mississippi High School Activities Association's North State Class 5A championship series, the Trojans have found their way back for another chance. New Hope achieved that status with a 7-4 win over Ridgeland to close out a second-round playoff series before standing-room only crowd at Trojan Field Monday night.
"It is all about the (state championship) ring," New Hope junior pitcher Taylor Stafford said. "We have had our eyes set on that since the end of last season. Ridgeland was the No. 1 team in Class 5A. We wanted to come out and prove that wrong. We feel like we should be that team.
"We are going to keep working hard until we get there."
New Hope closed out this best-of-three series in just two games. The Trojans (22-8) will face either Hernando or fellow Region 2-5A rival Oxford for the north state title. That series goes to a third game tonight in Oxford. The north state title series starts Thursday at either Hernando or Oxford.
"I am very happy that we closed the series out in two games," New Hope coach Lee Boyd said. "Of course, we felt like we could go to Ridgeland (for a potential third game) and win there. However, you are asking a team to win twice in their ballpark and that was going to be extremely difficult.
"Our attitude and determination was really great tonight. We came in with a plan and did a great job of executing."
On this night, the Trojans had many heroes.
Will Golsan, the squad's leadoff hitter, did what he always does. Golsan reached base safely in all four at-bats, including two doubles, a single and a walk.
Landon Boyd, the squad's ace pitcher, allowed six hits and was lifted after allowing back-to-back hits to start the Ridgeland seventh inning.
"Landon has been really up and down the last couple of weeks," Lee Boyd said. "His last three or four regular season starts, he was not as sharp as he normally is. For him to come out here and do what he did tonight in front of friends and family, that means a lot.
"Even though I am his coach, he is my brother. I can't pretend I don't know him. I love him to death and he was really good out there tonight. He had some chances offensively but did not get the key hit. Sometimes, he lets that affect his pitching. Tonight, he didn't. And I thought that was a big key to the game."
Stafford had four hits and recorded a save on the mound. After back-to-back hits to start the Ridgeland seventh inning, Stafford benefited from a base running mistake by the Titans and then got two outs of his own.
After being pressed into duty as a starter in New Hope's last playoff round, Stafford was excited about getting the ball when his team needed him the most Monday night.
"The adrenaline is really going when you get in there in a closing situation," Stafford said. "I was so excited. It feels great when you know you can end it and send your team on to the next round."
Second baseman Parker Earhart lined a bases-clearing three-run double down the left field line. The hit was the big blow in a five-run fifth inning as New Hope built a 7-1 lead.
"(The hit) was so big," said Earhart, who had multiple hits along with Golsan, Stafford and Tee Payne. "The crowd was up and the team was really into the game. We had a 3-1 lead and I knew that was a big spot in the game. It felt really good to come through."
New Hope has followed a similar refrain while building a 6-1 postseason record. On any night, any player wearing the Black and Gold can get the big hit, make the big defensive play or record the key strikeout.
"It is somebody different every night," Stafford said. "One through nine, we have guys who can hit. If somebody is down on this team, it's not going to last long. We are going to come over there, have your back and get you right back up."
In the series opener, New Hope erased a 3-0 deficit with four runs in the fifth inning. The Trojans later blew the contest open and won 9-4. Peyton Lane had a bases-clearing double in the big fifth inning. Austin Oswalt had the monster blow to provide the insurance scores.
"At the beginning of the season, we thought we were really going to be able to swing the bats this year," Lee Boyd said. "We had some guys struggling at the bottom of the order earlier in the year but hopefully that is behind us. We have had double-digit hits in basically every playoff game. That is a big testament to this team because with each round, the pitching gets better and better."
Ridgeland started Reed Evans on the mound in the series opener. New Hope waited patiently for its opportunity.
"We knew their starter was an Ole Miss commitment and I think that got in our heads a little bit," Stafford said. "We thought he was too good for us to hit early. As the game went along, we had our chances. Then when Peyton got that big hit, it changed everything around. We played with a lot more confidence after that."
The confidence carried over to Monday night. Golson and Stafford each had doubles in the first inning as New Hope quickly built a 1-0 lead. Back-to-back hits by Stafford and Payne made it 2-0 in the third inning.
By that time, Boyd had the mound situation on cruise control and the New Hope mission was well on its way to a new challenge.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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