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New Hope baseball team loses momentum in loss to Saltillo

 

Adam Minichino

 

Uncle Mo'' is someone all teams love to have on their side. 

 

When you''re going good, like holding the opponent scoreless through the first five innings, the push you get from momentum can help you make things look easy. 

 

But as soon as you lose that wave, performing even the easiest tasks can become the most difficult things imaginable. 

 

The New Hope High School baseball team experienced both ends of the spectrum Tuesday night. Unfortunately for the Trojans, they lost the momentum, regained it, and then lost it again in a 10-8 loss to Saltillo in a Class 5A Division 2, District 1 game at Trojan Field. 

 

"Like you said, that is high school baseball. You see it around the state all of the time," New Hope coach Lee Boyd said. "It is really tough to swallow. We''re up 6-0 in the sixth and you feel like you''re in command. A couple of groundballs found some holes, and if they had been at somebody or a step or two here or there, we probably win the game 6-2 or 6-3. Things just didn''t o our way." 

 

Led by senior knuckleballer Jake Upton, New Hope (14-5, 3-2 district) was cruising 6-0 entering the top of the sixth inning when things started to unravel. Saltillo (10-7, 4-1) sent 12 batters to the plate and scored seven runs in the sixth to seize the momentum. The Tigers tacked on another run in the seventh, only to lose the momentum in the bottom half of the inning as the Trojans scored two runs to send the game into extra innings.  

 

Saltillo then grabbed the game back in the eighth, capitalizing on three walks, a hit batter, and a bunt single to score two runs to take the all-important first of three games against New Hope. 

 

"It is high school baseball. You never know," Saltillo coach Johnny Bolen said. "When you''re playing a good squad, and we have a pretty good squad, you never know when it is going to break. We got started hitting the ball a little bit, getting runners on, and scoring some runs, and it just kept snowballing." 

 

Saltillo has been on the opposite end of the experience this season. It led Amory 13-4 and was one run from getting a 10-run Amory rule margin, but the Panthers rallied for a 15-14 victory.  

 

"No lead is safe in high school," Bolen said. 

 

The victory was even more important for Saltillo because it was coming off a loss Friday to Oxford and losses Saturday to Amory and Mooreville. With Oxford and West Point also in contention for the district''s two playoff berths, a victory on the road came at an opportune time. 

 

Saltillo stole the momentum back in the eighth. Dillon Payne led off with a walk against Dillon Hawkins and stole second base. Wesley Reed followed with a bunt single in between the pitcher and third base. Third baseman Brent Younger couldn''t charge on the play because the runner from second was in motion. 

 

Hawkins hit Jake Littlejohn to load the bases and then uncorked a wild pitch that scored the go-ahead run. A walk to Hunter Hill forced Boyd to bring on Jake Smith from center field. Smith struck out the next two hitters, but walked Kye Young to force in a run. 

 

"We wanted to get that run to third so a fly ball could score him," Bolen said. "Everything worked out for us. It is tough on high school kids to execute every time, but that''s exactly what we wanted. The next time it may not. That is high school baseball."  

 

New Hope used an unlikely method to rally in the bottom of the seventh. Frank Richardson Jr. battled back from an 0-2 count for a walk to start the frame. Tice then singled to push Richardson Jr. to third. A wild pitch plated Richardson Jr. and allowed Tice to go all of the ay to third base. Payne got a strikeout for the second out before Tice received the green light to attempt a steal of home. The senior broke on a 1-2 pitch with Payne, a left-hander, in the windup and slid in safely as the throw came in high. 

 

"Philip is a battler," Boyd said. "When he got to third base he looked at me and said, ''Coach, can I?'' I said we have Davis (Lee) up, who is one of my top hitters. If we get two (strikes) on him, we''ll think about it. ... He timed it perfect and it was a big momentum shift." 

 

Boyd felt the Trojans carried the momentum over, but they weren''t as sharp defensively or pitching wise to capitalize. He never thought Saltillo would score as many runs as it did in the sixth, but he credited the Tigers and said unusual things happen in high school baseball. 

 

"We knocked every bit of air out of them when we knocked Morse out," Boyd said. "I really thought we were going to score more runs on that kid (reliever Blake Hutchinson). He did a good job of holding us at bay until they got Payne in the ballgame." 

 

Hutchinson, a left-hander, threw more than 100 pitches Saturday against Mooreville. He came on in the fifth in relief of starting pitcher Cole Morse and helped shut down New Hope. He also had two hits (single, double) in the seven-run sixth that changed the game. 

 

"He told me today, ''Coach, if you need me today I am ready,'' " Bolen said. "He kept us in the game, and got the two big hits. That is going to get him pumped up." 

 

Hutchinson''s line single to left started the uprising. The shot went past third baseman Jared Shelton after New Hope was forced to retool its infield in the third after a Saltillo player stepped on Tice''s right hand following a slide into second base. Boyd moved Tice from shortstop to second, Younger from third to shortstop, and Shelton from second to third to protect against Tice having to make a long throw with an injured hand. 

 

With one out, Hunter Hill stroked a two-run home run that ignited the rally. An infield single and a seeing-eye groundball that went for an error stoked the flames before Upton, who had allowed only one hit entering the inning, recorded the second out on an infield fly. 

 

"I had all of the faith in the world in Jake," Boyd said. "He had only given up two hits and you just have a gut feeling. I didn''t think he was getting too tired, but, like you said, balls fund the right spots at some times." 

 

Boyd said errors contributed to the seven-run inning, but he said he was to blame for not having had players like Shelton and Younger practice playing different infield positions.  

 

That''s when the momentum flipped for the Tigers, as they scored five runs with two outs. Payne, who had a strikeout-filled evening up until that point, smacked a two-run single to chase Upton. Hutchinson then greeted Hawkins with a two-run double down the left-field line to make it 7-6. 

 

"I didn''t see it coming, but you can never give up on the kids," Bolen said. "We weren''t doing a very good job at the plate early in the game. Late in the game we started making some good decisions up there and it paid off." 

 

Saltillo tacked on what looked like an insurance run in the seventh thanks to two walks, a wild pitch, and a sacrifice fly. 

 

Bolen said the victory was critical because his team needed to win at least one of the two meetings this week against New Hope. At 7 p.m. Friday, Saltillo will play host to New Hope with a chance take control of the district race. 

 

New Hope took advantage of three walks and two errors in a four-run fourth that helped it build the 6-0 lead. Lee had a two-run single and Smith added an infield single that drove in another run.  

 

Seth Stillman added a solo home run in the fifth inning to give the Trojans the 6-0 cushion. 

 

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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