June 25, 2014 8:21:33 PM
New Hope High School baseball coach Lee Boyd frequently referred to his team as being a special group of players.
This past week, the Mississippi Association of Coaches recognized Boyd as a special coach.
For helping lead New Hope to a second straight Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A baseball state championship, Boyd was named the MAC 2014 Baseball Coach of the Year.
"It was just an incredible group of players," Boyd said. "Not only that, they were special people. Starting with the seniors, every player did everything we asked the entire season. That makes for a special group."
In 2013, New Hope walked a tight wire to win the school's first baseball state championship in 10 seasons. New Hope finished second in the MHSAA Class 5A, Region 2 race but found the right formula in postseason play.
New Hope actually lost three of its last four regular saeson games. In the playoffs, the Trojans survived a scare in the second round from Yazoo City.
The playoff run would eventually net 10 wins, including a hard-fought 2-1 series win over Pascagoula in the championship series.
A year later, there would be far less drama.
"Normally after you win a championship, a little bit of complacency sets in," Boyd said. "That was never the case with this team. From the summer workouts to the first sessions in the fall, they came out determined to work even harder."
The results showed on the field.
This season, New Hope finished 32-4, including an 8-1 record in region play. In postseason play, New Hope also posted an 8-1 mark, rallying from down a game to defeat West Jones in a best-of-three series for the state championship.
When West Jones rallied from down 4-0 to win the series opener 5-4, New Hope saw an 18-game win streak snapped. The Trojans righted the ship with 3-0 and 11-0 wins to capture the school's seventh overall baseball state championship.
In postseason play, New Hope posted four shutouts.
"The pitching and defense were special all year," Boyd said. "When you have those two things, you can win a lot of games. We didn't have strikeout pitchers but we had pitchers who did a great job of pitching to contact. When you have the defense behind you and you know they are going to make all of the plays, then it is a lot easier to pitch.
"From an offensive standpoint, we did a great job of taking advantage of our opportunities. If the hitting was not good one night, we knew it would be better the next."
New Hope dropped a 5-1 decision to Oxford in a March 28 home game in region play. The Trojans responded by not losing another region game to nail down the region crowd. New Hope gained revenge for the loss to Oxford by beating the bitter rival 3-2 and 4-2 on the road.
"We have a big rivalry with Oxford," Boyd said. "We showed a lot of mettle by winning the second game by a run at their place.
"That series win was really important and put us in a position to win the championship."
The 2013 postseason run was sweet because of a chance to put out nemesis Hernando. In 2014, the highlight of the postseason run was a series sweep of Oxford, 7-0 and 3-2.
By the time Oxford was vanquished, New Hope was totally focused on completing the mission.
"The second state championship is sweeter than the first because we did it as the defending champions," New Hope senior pitcher Taylor Stafford said. "It is a lot harder when everybody expects you to win. Coach Boyd always kept us focused and ready for the next game. The seniors provided a lot of leadership but so did the coaches. They gave us a plan and we did a great job of going out there and executing it."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter