May 24, 2014 10:36:29 PM
PEARL -- The repeat is complete.
The New Hope High School baseball team played the entire season with a bull's eye on its back as the defending Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state champions. Still, no team proved good enough to stop the Trojans' quest for a repeat.
Behind a one-hit pitching performance from Josh Stillman and a dominant offense, New Hope repeated as state champions with an 11-0, five-inning victory against West Jones Saturday night at Trustmark Park.
"When you have a target on your back, it is always hard. It is hard to repeat," Stillman said. "You are working with small percentages. I have to really thank God for allowing us to get here again. It is a great feeling when you make any type of history for your school. What a great group of guys. I really can't explain how happy I am."
Stillman needed only 44 pitches to complete the run-rule victory. He lost the bid for a perfect game after a leadoff single in the fifth inning. New Hope responded with its third double play of the series. The follow-up toss from Parker Earhart to Wells Davis completed a game in which the junior right-hander faced the minimum.
"It doesn't matter what Josh told you, he was nervous before the game," New Hope fifth-year coach Lee Boyd said. "To be able to score six runs in the first inning was huge. That allowed everyone to take a deep breath."
New Hope (32-4) was rarely pressed in the postseason, as it finished the playoffs with an 8-1 record. New Hope pitching recorded four shutouts in the playoffs, including two in the championship series. The Mustangs won the series opener 5-4, but the South State champions scored in only one of 18 tournament at-bats.
"This year's championship is way better than last year's," New Hope senior catcher Jake Hollis said. "Last year, we really didn't know what we were doing, and then we started winning games. This year was a lot different because we started the year with the goal of a state championship. Everybody did what they had to do all year long. That is why we had a special season.
"We had a big target, but we took it seriously. We wanted other teams to take us seriously because we liked beating teams when they were at their best. Even when we lost the first game (of this series), the goal was to still win the state championship. All year long, we got the best from other teams and we really strived off that."
New Hope won the school's seventh baseball state championship and its first back-to-back titles. The motivation of the repeat fueled New Hope's offseason efforts. The Trojans clicked on all cylinders down the stretch, winning 20 of their final 21 games.
"There is no doubt about how sweet this championship is," New Hope senior shortstop Will Golsan said. "We came into the year wanting to make history. That was our motivation. We knew nobody in the state was going to out work us. We worked so hard to win last season's championship and then did even more than that to repeat. We knew we had everything that you have to have to win a state championship. The only thing we had to give was effort."
In the playoffs, New Hope pitching was dominant. In 57 innings, the Trojans allowed 31 hits and eight earned runs. Senior J.C. Redden threw a four-hit shutout Friday in a 3-0 win that evened the best-of-three series.
"We absolutely took to heart how big this challenge was, especially on the mound," New Hope senior center fielder Taylor Stafford said. "We wanted the competition. It was fun. It made us better. Each night we wanted to play the best teams. We wanted to face the best pitchers. If you beat those types of teams, you know you can win a championship. Instead of backing away from a challenge, we stepped up and it took on head first. This was a special group of players and we believed we could accomplish these kinds of things."
For Boyd, seeing his seniors dog pile for a second-straight season was bittersweet.
"I love these seniors," Boyd said. "I love each and every one of them. I got emotional tonight filling out the lineup card because I knew this was their last time. For the last four years, I have seen them more than their parents have. We owe it all to Jesus Christ. He gave us a tremendous opportunity with a special group of athletes. When they set their mind to something, it was getting done. That is the true mark of a champion."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
1. MSU football team adds players for 2015 COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Smith anxious to face hometown school in Orange Bowl COLLEGE SPORTS
5. MSU looks for bounce-back performance in Jackson COLLEGE SPORTS