April 22, 2014 9:22:52 AM
New Hope High School found its baseball season at a crossroads last month.
Longtime Mississippi High School Activities Association nemesis Oxford had just handed the defending Class 5A state champion Trojans a beating in a Region 2 game on New Hope's turf.
"Oxford really beat our brains out (in a 5-1 win)," New Hope senior outfielder Rooke Coleman said. "After the game, we went upstairs and talked about an hour and a half. It was the whole team. We talked some things out. Players stepped up and took more accountability. Since that meeting, we have been playing more for one another."
Perhaps that meeting was better than any practice. New Hope continued its perfect April by running its win streak to 10 straight with a 17-6, six-inning rout of Columbus on Monday night at Sammy Fletcher Field.
Originally scheduled as a playoff tuneup between ranked teams, the game took on a different flavor once it started. Columbus will begin the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A playoffs Thursday, so its pitching options were limited. New Hope will have a first-round bye in the Class 5A playoffs and another week before it begins its title defense.
"We were at an advantage," Boyd said. "They were down in their rotation. Couple of weeks ago at our place (in a 3-2 win), the roles were reversed. We threw Payton Lane and he really filled the zone and helped get us a very good win against a good team. Tonight, the second inning was the difference."
In the second, New Hope (22-3) sent 16 to the plate and scored 10 runs off starting pitcher Kaden Patel and reliever Michael Sturdivant. The Trojans had seven hits, but the inning could have been halted much earlier. Columbus attempted to get the lead runner on a sacrifice bunt attempt and also made two errors in the at-bat.
"It really helps to have a team that supports you," said New Hope junior Josh Stillman, who threw five innings to earn the win. "I always have a lot of confidence we are going to score a lot of runs because we are swinging the bats real well."
Javonta Smith and Brian Ezell followed Sturdivant to the mound as regular starters Trace Lee and Hunter Mullis didn't pitch. Lee was the tough-luck loser in the loss at New Hope.
Columbus (18-6) broke up Stillman's no-hit bid by scoring five runs in the fourth. Mullis and Chris McCullough started that inning with back-to-back singles. A walk loaded the bases before a catcher's interference run brought home the Falcons' first run. Isaiah Farmer also had a big two-run hit for the Falcons. A nifty defensive play by Will Golsan helped work the Trojans out of the tight spot.
Stillman allowed another run in the fifth before J.D. Earhart completed the game.
"Overall we played well offensively," Boyd said. "We had a couple of hiccups in the field, but those are the things we will keep working on. Not only did we have the bad loss to Oxford, but we also had a couple of games where we won but didn't play well. In the last two weeks, we have really turned the corner offensively."
New Hope brought the run rule into effect by scoring once in the fourth and three times in the fifth and sixth. Columbus walked 11, hit four, and allowed 12 hits.
"We are playing with the complete package," Coleman said. "Offensively, defensively, and on the mound. It's like coach Boyd said last year, we needed to lose a few games and that lit the fire, so, hopefully, the same thing is happening this year. We are excited about the playoffs and making another run."
Coleman led the attack with three hits. Stillman, Lane, and Wells Davis each had multiple hits.
While it has clinched the No. 1 spot in the region, New Hope will try to finish an 8-1 region ledger by beating Saltillo tonight on Senior Night. New Hope will play May 1 in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs.
"If you go back to last year, the one thing we learned is the playoffs are fun," Boyd said. "The seniors know they have three or four weeks left. That makes everything more intense. Everybody has a good club on this level."
Arguably the most successful senior class in the history of Columbus baseball was recognized in pregame ceremonies Monday night. Nine Falcons were honored before playing their final home game. Columbus will end the regular season tonight at Caledonia and play host to Olive Branch in Game 1 of a best-of-three Class 6A series Thursday.
McCullough had a single and double to highlight Columbus' four-hit attack.
n Heritage Academy 18, Hamilton 6, five innings: At Hamilton, Cody Mordecai, Mark Thatcher, and Tyler Anderson had two hits to lead the Patriots (17-11) to their mercy rule victory.
Hunter Sykes was 1-for-2 with two runs scored and an RBI. He also pitched two innings to get the victory. Logan Sneed and Brandon Jones combined to pitch the final three innings.
Ethyn Loren was 1-for-1 with a run scored and an RBI, Jace Caldwell scored two runs, Mordecai had two doubles, scored two runs, and had an RBI, Hunter Short was 1-for-1 with an RBI, Thatcher scored two runs and had two RBIs, Dylan Barker had a double, scored three runs, and had two RBIs, Anderson scored a run and had an RBI, Thomas Cooper was 1-for-2 with two runs scored and an RBI, Tanner Fittes had a double, scored a run, and had two RBIs, Jared Thorton scored a run, and Jones was 1-for-1.
John Wesley Imel was 2-for-3 with a run scored for Hamilton. Hayden Evans had a double, scored a run, and had an RBI, Allen Baty had an RBI, Austin Bishop was 1-for-2 with a run scored and an RBI, and Austin Taylor had a double for the Lions.
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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