May 25, 2014 12:21:13 AM
PEARL -- The New Hope High School baseball team approached its playoff game Friday night like any other.
The Trojans quickly learned facing elimination can turn the intensity up a notch.
New Hope made amends for dropping the series opener thanks in part to a complete-game four-hitter by J.C. Redden in a 3-0 victory against West Jones in Game 2 of the best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state championship series at Trustmark Park.
Following a 5-4 victory by West Jones on Thursday, New Hope's win forced a Game 3, which was played Saturday night.
"This game was different than any other," New Hope junior third baseman Josh Stillman said. "(Thursday), we came out and expected to sweep. I think (the loss) woke us up a little bit. In this game, we came out with our backs against the wall, but we still knew we could pull it out. If West Jones was going to beat us, they were going to have to beat our best effort. They were going to have to fight us for it."
Through five innings in both games, New Hope had allowed only one hit. In the opener, New Hope took a 4-0 lead in the top of the sixth only to have West Jones rally for five runs in the bottom half of the inning. On Friday, the Trojans only got stronger at the end.
"We had to block out everything that happened (in the first game)," Redden said. "We have won a lot of games the same way we won this one. My job as a pitcher was to keep controlling the game. I felt like I had good control of all three of my pitches. The defense was there like it was always is. It was important we focused and kept doing what we do best."
New Hope (31-4) scored once in the second inning and twice in the third against senior ace Garrett Goodwin.
"You want the kids to play relaxed in a series like this," New Hope coach Lee Boyd said. "It is hard to do that when you let a lead slip away like we did Thursday. In this game, you feel good when you have a 3-0 lead with J.C. on the mound, but then again, we felt good yesterday with a 4-0 lead and Taylor (Stafford) on the mound."
West Jones (25-11) pieced together scoring threats in the fifth and sixth. Redden walked two but escaped in the fifth with a double play. He allowed two hits and escaped the sixth with another double play.
"The double-play ball hit back to the pitcher was the biggest play of the game," Redden said. "The leadoff batter had reached and (Blake Shows) is the same one who reached to start the big sixth inning Thursday. We were fixing to go through the middle of their lineup, so to get two outs immediately was really a big lift."
Redden walked three, hit one, and allowed the four hits. Stafford and Stillman combined to limit West Jones to seven hits in Game 1. However, the Mustangs had six of those hits in the sixth.
"The main thing was making plays," Stillman said. "We got beat by one big inning (Thursday). It just seemed like we couldn't get that one big out to stop the momentum. In this game, we made all of the plays. Both double plays were huge. It really took away the hope West Jones had of getting back in the game."
New Hope had five hits after getting eight in the series opener. Stillman and Stafford each had two hits. Stafford and Payton Lane each crushed doubles to the left-center field gap in the two-run third.
"Hopefully we can put some hits together (in the third game)," Boyd said. "I have seen the West Jones No. 3 guy and he is really good, so it ought to be another pitchers' duel. We will need some runs early. We will also need to play relaxed."
Meanwhile, Stillman is eager to pitch the biggest game of his high school career to help the program win back-to-back state titles for the first time.
"It is the biggest game of our season," Stillman said. "My job remains the same. I just have to fill up the zone like Taylor and J.C. We know what it takes to get this done. Hopefully we will get lots of runs, too. That would be really great."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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