April 21, 2015 10:48:54 AM
The numbers had been cleared from the scoreboard at Trojan Field, but they were still fresh in Lee Boyd's mind.
The New Hope High School baseball coach didn't need to be reminded that his team committed four errors or that it had only three hits Monday night in its final regular-season home game.
But an unusually large number of errors and the disturbingly low number of hits didn't prevent New Hope from finding a way to beat West Point 5-4 in nine innings in a Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A, Region 2 game.
"Defensively, we have had a good year, and I don't think we're going to do that consistently with four errors," Boyd said. "We won the game, but we're very fortunate to win. (Starting pitcher) Rico (Lane) is a very good pitcher, but we're better offensively than what we're showing. It is bad and good at the same time. I feel like we can be better, and when we do start clicking, we're going to be dangerous, but we just have not found the bats."
The victory allowed New Hope (17-5, 5-3 region) to move one step closer to a matchup against Neshoba Central at 7 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the MHSAA Class 5A State tournament. Game 1 of the best-of-three series will be at Trojan Field in Columbus. Game 2 will be Friday. The if-needed game will be Saturday in Columbus.
Before New Hope can get to the business of trying to win a third-straight Class 5A title, it will have to take on Saltillo tonight. The game will give the Trojans at least seven more innings to find a spark at the plate that has been missing for most of the season. In the past two years, though, New Hope has found its rhythm in the playoffs. In 2013, it scored 77 runs in playoff series wins against Yazoo City, Ridgeland, Hernando, and Pascagoula. The Trojans scored five runs in the final two games of the title series to take home the championship. In 2014, New Hope scored 67 runs in series against Center Hill, Pearl, Oxford, and West Jones. An 11-0 victory in five innings helped wrap up the second-consecutive crown.
This year, though, Boyd isn't sure what might provide a spark for the Trojans. If Monday is any indication, Brody Stokes is willing to do his part. Stokes, who was one of eight seniors honored in a ceremony before the game, ended the festivities by lining a fastball from Lane into the right-center field gap. The hit allowed Will Godfrey, who singled with one out, to score all the way from first base. The hits by Godfrey and Stokes were New Hope's second and third of the night.
"It is the best feeling ever," Stokes said of his first career-game-winning hit. "That was my first double of the season. I just told myself I had to go up there swinging."
Stokes said he capitalized on an outside fastball and went the other way. He said his goal was to follow that approach in previous at-bats, but he said Lane did a good job of hitting the inside corner. He said he struck out on a changeup on his second at-bat and was focused on not trying to do too much to deliver in a key situation.
Boyd isn't sure if his team needed a game like the extra-inning affair because it already had secured the No. 2 spot in the region. He praised the pitching performance Monday and said the Trojans have been stronger than he imagined they would be at the beginning of the season. Back then, Boyd believed the Trojans would win their share of 10-8 games, but things haven't worked out like he thought. As a result, Boyd said some of the players might be pressing a little bit and trying to do too much.
But hitting is contagious, and Boyd feels the start of a new season can work wonders. With two days left before the postseason, Boyd hopes history finds a way to repeat itself.
"Like I told the players, our 2013 team was kind of going through this," Boyd said. "We hit the ball better throughout the year. We had a little bad stretch for about a week or two at the end of the season and then we started to find it. This year, our first eight to 10 games, maybe, we swung the bat a little bit better, but we really haven't hit all year. I am hoping we will find it at the right time."
West Point (4-11, 1-7) was still in contention for the region's third and final playoff spot, but it needed to beat New Hope and win tonight against Oxford and have Saltillo lose to Oxford on Monday and to New Hope today. Oxford helped take care of part of that scenario with a 13-3 victory in six innings. West Point coach Blake Hutchison knew that result while his team's game against New Hope was still going on. Unfortunately, even a strong pitching performance the left-handed Lane couldn't help the Green Wave survive.
"That was phenomenal," Hutchison said of Lane's pitching performance. "He competed all night long. He has been that way pretty much for his whole career.
"He kept the ball down. He was knee high all night long. He had one pitch that got away from him and the guy hit the home run, but they had three hits. He was consistent all night. All of his pitches were working."
West Point scored its first run in the top half of the first against starter Peyton Buckner. It didn't score again until the top of the seventh, when it scratched across three runs to send the game to extra innings. The Green Wave capitalized on two walks, an infield error, an infield single by Chris Gibson that scored a run, and an RBI single by Jason Barnette that tied the game. But Payton Lane, who homered earlier in the game, recovered from giving up the lead and retired Miller Keys on a double play that third baseman Stokes started and finished with a throw to first baseman Wells Davis.
"I am proud of them," Hutchison said. "We have had a lot of trouble this year dealing with adversity. When something bad has gone wrong, we have kind of folded our heads and quit, but we didn't do that tonight. Hopefully we're growing and we can build on that next year.
"I hate it for our seniors that they're not going to get to go to the playoffs, but I am proud of them. Hopefully we can keep building off what these seniors have got going."
Lane and senior pitcher Steffon Moore will continue their baseball careers at Itawamba Community College in Fulton. Hutchison looks forward to what both players will be able to do at the next level.
"I think the sky is the limit for both of them, especially Steffon as a pitcher," Hutchison said. "I really don't think he has reached his potential. Rico can play several other positions, and Steffon is a good outfielder as well. They can definitely help ICC out."
While West Point will be left to consider what might have been, Stokes is confident about New Hope's chances. Like Boyd, Stokes points to history and knows the Trojans can find their stroke in the postseason and make things happen.
"The past two years in the playoffs our hitting has done wonderfully," Stokes said. "I am expecting that to increase 10-fold."
n Heritage Academy 7, Columbus 5: At Columbus, Tripp Gardner pitched a complete-game five-hitter Monday to lead the Patriots (9-11) to their victory in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools-Mississippi High School Activities Association game between city schools.
Gardner allowed three earned runs. He walked two and struck out four.
Tyler Anderson had two hits and an RBI to lead Heritage Academy. Ladd Chain and Thomas Cooper scored two runs, Hunter Sykes had a hit, scored a run, and had an RBI, Jared Thornton had a double and an RBI, Toby Young had a hit, and Caleb Gurley and Ethyn Loreno scored runs.
Isaiah Farmer, Deonteau Rieves (double), Jarrett Mason, and Dmonte Kidd had a hit and scored a run for the Falcons. Tyler Harmon had an RBI, Robert Woodard Jr. scored a run, Leon Payne and Bryan Ezell had RBIs, and Jarrod Bush had a hit. Rieves took the loss.
n In other action Monday, the Starkville High baseball team beat New Albany 5-0. Statistics from the game weren't available at press time. The victory helps Starkville improve to 13-12 ahead of its game against Grenada in the opening round of the MHSAA Class 6A State tournament.
The Starkville High softball tam defeated Noxapater 9-7.
n New Hope boys finish second in region, qualify for state tournament: The New Hope High boys golf team shit a 348 Monday to finish second behind Class 5A, Region 1 winner Lewisburg.
The finish helped the Trojans secure a spot in the state tournament May 6-7 at Wedgewood Golfers Club in Olive Branch. The state tournament appearance will be New Hope's first in three years. Lewisburg is the reigning state champion.
Jake Crosson shot a 77 to lead New Hope. Nick Sims (84), Cameron Davis (93), Dillon Cash (94), and Austin Dotson (100) also played for the Trojans.
Lewisburg's Heath Newsom shot a 72 to earn medalist honors.
West Point finished sixth with a 415. John Facella shot a 95 to lead the Green Wave. Gil Wilkerson (100), J.B. Harrell (102), Roe Ketchum (118), and Tyler Harris (128) also played for West Point.
The New Hope girls will play Thursday with Caledonia and West Point at Green Oaks.
Today, the Caledonia High boys will play their district tournament at Green Oaks.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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