May 14, 2014 7:33:14 PM
New Hope High School has a rare luxury when the Mississippi High School Activities Association's North Mississippi Class 5A baseball playoffs resume tonight.
The Trojans have a mighty detailed scouting report on their next opponent.
New Hope (28-3) faces Class 5A, Region 2 rival Oxford (26-8) beginning at 7 tonight at Trojan Field in a best-of-three series for the North State championship. New Hope won two of three games in the regular season. The Trojans will again need two wins in three tries to advance to the state championship series for a second straight year.
The best-of-three series continues at 7 Friday night at Oxford and would come back to New Hope for a third game at 7 Saturday night.
"There are no secrets at this time," New Hope fifth-year coach Lee Boyd said. "Honestly, our main concern is about how well we play at this time. This late in the season you know a little bit about all of the players on another team. It makes it even easier to have information when it is somebody you have played throughout the season. The biggest thing is focusing in on us to playing to our potential."
Oxford defeated New Hope 5-1 in Lowndes County on March 28. In a similarly crushing defeat, Oxford won the region title by taking an 8-1 victory at New Hope last season.
This season, New Hope has bounced back nicely from the Oxford to defeat by posting 15 straight wins, including a perfect 4-0 mark in the playoffs.
"The loss was to Oxford was like a wake-up call to us," New Hope junior infielder Payton Lane said. "It really was a way to get our focus. Even good baseball teams lose games every now and then. However, we realized that we weren't really playing together as a team or playing to our potential."
New Hope also had early-season losses to New Albany and Sipsey Valley (Ala.). However, the Trojans knew the importance of not letting the region title slip away for a second consecutive year. By winning the region title, New Hope got to by-pass the play-in round of the playoffs and will only need eight wins to repeat as state champions, instead of 10. A year ago, New Hope put together a 10-2 playoff ledger on the way to its first state championship in 10 years.
While dropping the middle game of the season series, New Hope won twice at Oxford - winning 3-2 on March 25 and 4-2 on April 15.
"In the second half of the season, we really played with a lot of confidence," New Hope junior infielder Wells Davis said. "We know our pitching and defense will always be there for us. It is a just a matter of taking care of business on the offensive end. We have some games that are better than others but we still have a lot of confidence that the next inning is going to be a good one for us."
Lane and Davis each lead New Hope with 36 base hits on the season. Davis has a team-best .409 average, while senior Will Golsan is next at .406. Senior Taylor Stafford has hit a team-best three home runs.
On the mound, senior JC Redden is 8-1 with a 1.98 earned run average. Stillman is 7-0 with a 1.04 ERA, while Stafford is 6-0 with a 0.98 ERA. Stafford and Golsan each have two saves.
New Hope is hitting .318 as a team, with a 2.01 team ERA.
"When you pitch it well and defend it well, you give yourselves a chance," Boyd said. "Our pitchers have done a great job of throwing strikes and filling the strike zone this season. That has been the biggest reason for our success. On offense, we have done a good job of taking advantage of our opportunities."
New Hope returns to the North State championship round for a third straight season. The Trojans lost to Hernando in the 2012 North State finals before beating that squad a year later in the same round.
Now, the Trojans have their sights set on a familiar opponent with a chance to return to the state finals.
"We are excited about playing some more games," Golsan said. "The thing about this team is when we have a bad offensive game, we just shrug it off and get ready for the next one. We know what we are capable of doing. The pitching and defense will always be there for us. As long as we do our part as hitters, everything will work out just fine for this team."
The New Hope-Oxford series winner will face either East Central (22-6) or West Jones (22-9) next week at Trustmark Park in Pearl for the Class 5A state championship.
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter