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Columbus edges Olive Branch in baseball playoff thriller




By Brian Lentz 


Special to The Dispatch 


Sometimes one run is all you need. 


That's all it took for the Columbus High School baseball team to seize victory in the opening game of a best-of-three series in play-in round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A playoffs. Columbus beat Olive Branch 1-0 Thursday night at Sammy Fletcher Field. 


The best-of-three series continues at 6 tonight in Olive Branch and would come back to Columbus if necessary Saturday. 


"I told the team before the game that all we needed was one," said Columbus head baseball coach Jeffrey Cook. "It was a true pitcher's duel with two dominant guys pitching. (But) we got the big hit when it counted and (Deonteau) Reives battled after missing the bunt and came through for us." 


The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fifth inning, when senior Michael Sturdivant teed off for an outfield double. Rieves would finish the job, bringing Sturdivant home on an RBI double that gave the Falcons the only run of the ball game.  


For Rieves, getting the hit was a must. 


"I knew that if I couldn't get the base hit down, Coach probably would have gotten on to me," said Rieves, with a smile. "I couldn't get the bunts down at first, so I knew had to do something to get Michael in and to get us on the board." 


Although it was the RBI double from Rieves that sealed the win for Columbus, the biggest key proved to be the performance on the mound from senior Trace Lee. Lee pitched a complete game, fanning 13 Olive Branch batters on the night, giving up only three walks and one hit. However, you won't see Lee take the credit for any of it.  


"I realize the blessings that the Lord has given me," Lee said. "Every time I come out here, I want to give Him the glory in the way that I play, the way I act. I also had a great defense behind me tonight, and I give them a lot of credit for the win." 


Cook knows what he is getting on a nightly basis when Lee steps to the mound. After missing a couple of starts with back stiffness, the senior has responded with a strong finish to the regular season. Fellow senior Hunter Mullis has given Columbus a 1-2 punch on the mound and will take to the hill tonight. 


"He's a super kid, first and foremost," said Cook. "He loves this team and is a leader. We know when we face a team's number one pitcher that we're going to put Trace out there on the mound. We feel pretty confident in throwing him against anybody in the state." 


For the Columbus seniors, Thursday night was another milestone as the program achieved 20 wins for the first time under their watch. Now, the goal is to get No. 21 and advance in the playoffs for the first time. 


"We have to play better than we did tonight," said Sturdivant. "We stumbled early and made a couple of errors, but we came back and battled. We didn't get as many hits and runs as we wanted to either, so we have to improve on that and also not make as many errors as we did tonight." 


Even though Olive Branch will be a team looking for revenge on Friday, Cook knows what his team has to do to avoid a letdown on the road. 


"We have to stay hungry," Cook said. "We cannot be satisfied with just getting the first win of the series. We have to come out, attack, and get on them early in the game."



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