May 17, 2013 12:29:14 PM
HERNANDO -- When a team wins a big postseason road game, it usually has at least a couple of hours to celebrate.
That's not the case for the New Hope High School baseball team.
On Thursday night, New Hope moved within one victory from reaching the Mississippi High School Activities Association's Class 5A state championship series with an 8-5 victory against Hernando in game one of the best-of-three North State championship series.
Today, the series shifts to Columbus for a 7 p.m. game. A third game would be at 7 p.m. Saturday in Hernando.
"I told the kids to not be proud of this victory," New Hope coach Lee Boyd said. "I told them that Friday night at this time, I want to be able to go back and be proud of this victory then. I didn't even smile at them tonight. This is far from over."
If the setting sounds familiar, there is a reason. A year ago, these teams played in the North State championship round. New Hope won game one 4-2 in Hernando. Hernando then won 1-0 at New Hope and took game three 6-5 in Hernando.
"We started just like this last year," New Hope senior catcher Tee Payne said. "We know the job is not done. We know this is simply a stepping stone. Did we play great? Yes. Are we excited? Yes, but we have to turn around and do this all over again or it means nothing."
Hernando lost two starters from last season's team. Based on who is pitching for them, the Tigers have had games where they start two freshmen and two sophomores. The youth hurt Thursday night, as the younger Tigers were responsible for half of the team's six errors.
"After the game, I told the guys to stay focused," New Hope junior shortstop Will Golsan said. "I told them to keep the mind-set where it needs to be. I really like how we have been playing through all of the playoffs, so it's not like we have to do anything different. We just have to come to the field and keep doing what we have been doing."
New Hope is 7-1 in the playoffs. The Trojans saw their string of double-digit hit games end Thursday night. Hernando senior ace Caleb Goff had something to do with that, but New Hope used a decisive four-run fifth inning to chase him.
The Trojans will come back tonight with senior ace Landon Boyd. Goff and Boyd are Northeast Mississippi Community College signees. Hernando second baseman Scott Pala will join them in the fall in Booneville.
"Last season, Hernando made a great defensive play to win the second game of the series," Lee Boyd said. "When you are one out or one base hit away from playing for the state championship, it hurts. That pain has been there all year and it has been deep. We left Hernando with all of the momentum last season and it got away from us. It turned on one really great play. Now, we got to make sure that it does not happen again."
New Hope is playing its best baseball of the season. The Trojans have barely resembled the team that lost three of its final four regular-season games. New Hope has had the burning desire to see Hernando again and to right last season's wrong. Now, the Trojans have the confidence and offensive backing to support that desire.
"We feel like we totally let it slip away last season," New Hope junior outfielder Taylor Stafford said. "There are no guarantees about who wins and who loses. I do guarantee we are going to come out and play our hearts out. We are going to go harder at it than we ever have before because this is it."
Coach Boyd feels the same way about his squad. In its last four playoff series, Hernando has lost game one and won the next two. Thus, the Tigers know where they are and where they are trying to get. On the other hand, New Hope has had a long climb to get back among the state's elite programs. The Trojans can take their biggest step tonight.
"All I know for sure is we will be focused," Lee Boyd said."We will be ready. We know Hernando won't be depressed. They have been here before. We will have a huge crowd and we are going to give a tremendous effort.
"These kids are really going to be ready to go. They have been waiting right at a year for this. We won't have our guard down it will be up. The time is now."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter