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Starkville breaks game open late


David Miller



There was a feeling Tuesday at Sammy Fletcher Field that was similiar to three weeks earlier. A feeling that maybe the Columbus High School baseball team could overcome a two-run deficit to beat rival Starkville. 


Much like the two team''s March 23 meeting, when Columbus'' Nick Durrah and Starkville''s R.J. Johnson dueled on the mound, the Yellow Jackets'' narrow advantage widened without an answer from the Falcons. 


Nine runs the last two innings helped Starkville turn a 6-4 lead heading into the top of the fifth inning into a 15-4 rout in a Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A, Division 2, District 4 game. 


Starkville (11-5, 4-3 district) was humbled by West Point on Monday night, but with Tuesday''s win and South Panola''s loss to Tupelo, coach Danny Carlisle''s Yellow Jackets have a two-game advantage on Columbus (10-11, 2-5) and South Panola for second place in the district.  


Much like the first meeting in Columbus, Johnson turned in a solid performance on the mound. The senior pitched 6 2/3 innings and gave up four runs on seven hits. He struck out 11 and hit one better. 


Starkville heads to Tupelo on Friday night, hoping to duplicate the result of a 2-0 extra-innings win on March 30. 


Tuesday, however, produced what Carlisle called "a more patient" approach to facing Durrah, who turned in a three-hit complete game in the first meeting at Sammy Fletcher Field. 


"He was kind of all over the place and the time before we swung at a lot of balls and let him get ahead," Carlisle said. "Being patient was the key tonight. (Starkville assistant) Coach (Charlie) Smith does a good job of scouting us as he does the other team, so the kids knew how they pitched them the last two ball games. He wrote them scouting reports and they studied that on the way over here." 


The Jackets will face Tupelo''s Cody Shrewsberry on Friday and Carlisle hopes the team can carry the same plate discipline as it did Tuesday. 


"We''re down to seven innings and 21 outs every time we play a division ball game," Carlisle said. "We''re getting better at that. We want to start building some momentum and being playing in May." 


Durrah reached the 100-pitch mark by the middle of the fourth inning and started experiencing back pain, something he''s dealt with since early in the season, Columbus coach Jeff Cook said.  


Cook opted to bring in Stefan Hairston to finish the fourth inning, and used Tyji Hawkins and Avery Ford to pitch the remainder of the game. 


The switch on the mound had immediate repercussions for the Falcons as Hairston came in against the top of the Starkville lineup and gave up two runs on singles to Nick Brooks and Tillery, and an RBI double by Johnson. 


Johnson went 2 for 4 with a game-high four RBIs. 


Starkville''s scores made it a 6-1 game, but Cook rued over two early errors and a bit of misfortune in the second inning when Starkville''s Reggie Campbell grounded into a double play, only to have the home plate umpire call catcher''s interference. That allowed Wesley Montgomery to bat and he singled home Cody Berryhill, who beat Josh Tentoni''s tag at the plate.  


An error and passed ball led to another Starkville run in the third as Tillery crossed on a Nathan Pugh sacrifice fly.  


"We didn''t make the play all night is what it boiled down to," Cook said. "They shouldn''t have scored none of the first three innings. Had an error in the first inning, catcher''s interference in the second inning, anothererror in the third.  


"We battled R.J., but the kid is good. We can''t make mistakes against a good team. We didn''t make the plays, that''s all. They stepped up late in the game and made big outs. That''s the way it worked tonight." 


Durrah took the loss, going 3 2/3 innings with six hits, four runs and four strikeouts.  


Aurby Burdine and Ford had an RBI double and RBI single, respectively, and Christian Dale had a sacrifice fly to score a run in the fifth to get the Falcons within 6-4 


Hawkins entered the game, however, and struggled to locate his pitches. He walked five in a four-run Starkville sixth that produced just one hit. 


To add to Columbus'' misery, Johnson launched a two-run homer to left off Ford before Tillery registered an RBI single. Tillery then stole home to give the Jackets a 15-4 lead heading into the bottom of the frame.  


"I hate [Durrah] couldn''t go and finish, but Stefan did a good job coming in," Cook said. "I thought Tyji was ready to come in, we just didn''t get the calls we thought and Starkville made some plays." 


Tillery, Dawkins and Pugh each had two RBIs for Starkville, while Dale had a double and two RBIs for Columbus.  


With the loss, Cook conceded Columbus'' chances for the postseason are dashed. He hopes it hasn''t let the air out of the sails with five games left to play. 


"I just called the seniors up and told them they need do the right thing and lead by example," Cook said. "This will show what kind of character they have. Are they going to lead to finish the season out or are they going to fold? It''s a lesson they''ve got to learn, but I think they''re going to work hard and finish the way they''re supposed to." 


Columbus hosts South Panola on Friday.  




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