May 9, 2014 11:14:14 AM
Columbus High School baseball coach Jeffrey Cook knew this season could be special.
With senior pitchers Trace Lee and Hunter Mullis and veteran standouts like Chris McCullough, Gevonta Webb, and Greg Sykes, Cook felt the Falcons would have the potential to make their fourth-straight playoff appearance.
In the back of his mind, though, Cook realized the ability of some of Columbus' younger and role players would play a critical part in Columbus' ability to advance in the postseason.
While Lee, Mullis, McCullough, and others have done their share, the Falcons have received contributions from a bunch of other individuals who have helped make this the best season in the history of Columbus High baseball.
"(Tyler) Harmon, (Isaiah) Farmer, (Bryan) Ezell, and (Deonteau) Rieves have all played big role players," Cook said.
Columbus (23-6) will try to keep the season going at 6 tonight when it takes on Tupelo in Game 1 of the best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A North State playoff series. Game 2 is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday in Columbus. Rain forecast for today and Saturday could change the schedule.
Cook said the Falcons needed an "extra" outfielder to take the place of Mullis when he pitched, so several players competed for the position before Patel earned the nod. Patel, whose brother, Dylan, was a second baseman for the Falcons, is hitting .250 in 17 games. He also is 1-1 with a 3.62 ERA in 9 2/3 innings. He also has been a part of one of the team's five no-hitters.
Cook said Patel has worked hard to become a better outfielder and has helped solidify the team's defense.
"He has made some very big plays in the games he has been in," Cook said. "When we said, 'Hey, Hunter, who do you want out there?' He said, 'I want Kaden,' " Cook said. "When you have the confidence of your captain who is pitching, you have won the job. He has been big for us, and he has had a good attitude."
Farmer is hitting .265 in 29 games. He has 23 runs, 22 hits, 19 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases. Harmon has helped anchor second base, which allowed Sykes to remain at third base, his natural position. Rieves has moved to shortstop when Lee goes to the mound, while Ezell has been a key contributor on the mound. Harmon has eight RBIs in 24 games, while Rieves is hitting .240 with 19 runs, 18 hits, and 11 RBIs. Ezell has appeared in 15 games and is 5-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 24 1/3 innings.
"I think Isaiah could have started last year I just think he lacked the confidence," Cook said. "Over the summer, he gained that confidence to step up. He had the game-winning, hardest-hit winging bunt (in Game 2 against Clinton) in my life."
Rieves, a sophomore, is in his second season with the varsity team. With nine seniors on the squad, he said he has learned about defensive positioning and confidence and how to develop the right mind-set this season from the older players. He admitted he didn't think he would play a big role on the team. He said he has learned to do whatever the team needs him to do -- he also has been used as a designated hitter -- to help keep the season going.
Patel, who is in his fourth year with the team, is a little more experienced, but this is his first year seeing significant action. He is confident many of the younger players have followed the example of the older players and will be ready to take over when the seniors are done. Until then, though, Patel said the Falcons will continue to rely on the efforts of the standouts and the role players to keep everyone going.
"After last year, we figured out this was going to be the last run," Patel said. "We saw what we had and then some of the people grew over the summer. They have filled the spots we needed pretty well. It has come together better than I hoped."
Cook said freshman Jaylan Lenoir and seniors Javonta Smith and Kendrick Conner also have delivered when given the chance to help Columbus win the first two playoff series in school history.
"Everybody has done their job well," Cook said. "Guys who aren't every-day starters have been able to step in and help us out."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.