June 6, 2013 10:37:09 AM
The Golden Triangle is sending three of the state's best baseball players to the state of Oklahoma.
Columbus High School's Trace Lee and Chris McCullough and New Hope High's Will Golsan left this morning with some of the top juniors from the state of Mississippi for the 17th annual Junior Sunbelt Classic tournament in McAlester, Okla. Led by Brandon High and former New Hope High coach Stacy Hester, Columbus High coach Jeffrey Cook, and Caledonia High coach John Wilson, the team will kick off a 10-game schedule against teams from across the country Friday.
Lee, McCullough, and Golsan were three of six juniors from Lowndes County schools who recently earned All-State honors from the Mississippi Association of Coaches. McCullough, a first baseman/outfielder/pitcher, as named to Class 6A's first team, while Lee, a pitcher/shortstop, was a second-team pick. Golsan, who led New Hope to the Class 5A state championship last month, was named a first-team infielder. Classmate Taylor Stafford also earned first-team All-State honors as a utility player.
Starkville High senior Max Bartlett and New Hope High senior Tee Payne were second-team picks as utility players.
Caledonia High's Caleb Brown (infielder) and Jeremy Reed-Wood (catcher) were named second-team All-State in Class 4A.
New Hope coach Lee Boyd also was named Coach of the Year in Class 5A.
Boyd, who got right back to work with summer baseball three days after leading the team to the state title, credited his players for helping to bring another championship to Columbus. He said it was especially satisfying to see players like Golsan, Stafford, and Payne mature and to be recognized for their fine seasons.
"We knew Will was going to be a really good player when he was young," Boyd said. "He really surprised us last year when he hit .360 with a home run and he really played well defensively. He was making the routine plays as a ninth-grader, and last year we hoped he would do the same thing and he went from making the routine plays to the spectacular plays. He turned that this year. He was hitting .541 going into the state championship, which is unheard of in Class 5A. He stayed hot all year.
"Taylor, if you can hit a quiet .480, I don't know if that is possible. Will got a lot of attention for hitting .540 and for being on base all of the time, but Taylor was one of the leaders in RBIs (44) in Class 5A, and I bet half of them were from knocking Will in. Taylor's biggest improvement was working hard on hitting the ball to the left-center field gap and going the other direction. He has always been able to pull it with the best of them, and he knew everybody was going to throw him away, but he tore that left-center field gap up this year.
"On the mound, he was ridiculous. His biggest improvement on the mound was consistency. He always had good stuff. ... This year, he found the zone more consistent, and every time we put him out there Taylor put the ball across the plate. This year, he added better off-speed stuff. He really worked hard on his changeup.
"Tee is just a leader for us. ... Something was missing when Tee was not on the diamond. He has a away to calm the team down in bad situations. His overall numbers may not jump out at you, but when the game is on the line Tee Payne is clutch."
Wilson credited Brown and Reed-Wood for being key ingredients on a team that won 24 games, beat Indianola Gentry in the first round and lost to eventual state champion Lewisburg in the first round.
Reed-Wood hit .402 and had 37 hits and 28 RBIs, while Brown hit .378, scored 32 runs, had 34 hits, and drove in 25 runs. Brown also was 6-4 with a 1.20 ERA. He had three complete games, and walked 14 and struck out 66 in 54 2/3 innings.
"Defensively, we were not as good as when he wasn't in the field," Wilson said. "He was pretty solid. On the mound, he has improved a little bit each year. He was a little more patient at the plate (after moving into the No. 3 hole from the lead-off spot).
"Jeremy hit .250 or .260 as a sophomore and made a big improvement. I hope this gives him the idea that maybe I am better than I think I am."
Columbus advanced to the playoffs for the third year in a row in large part due to the contributions of Lee and McCullough. Lee was 5-4 with a 1.51 ERA. He struck out 64 and walked 20 in 54 2/3 innings. McCullough hit .468 with two home runs and 36 RBIs. He also had 16 doubles and 21 walks. He struck out only once.
"Chris had an outstanding year," Cook said. "He really developed as an overall player. He as our guy who was going to be the run producer, and he hit the ball well all year. Earlier in the year when it was so cold, had the temperatures been warmer he probably would have hit 10 home runs. He really matured not only as a player but also as a person. He did a great job for us and improved dramatically on the mound. He is going to have to step up next year to replace Christian (Dale) as a starter.
"Trace had some really tough-luck outings. He could have ended up being 8-1 if not for some unearned runs. There was really only one game all year I felt he got beat in. He was a battler and a bulldog. He probably pitched one of his best games in the playoffs against Olive Branch. We need him to improve year to year like he has."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.