April 29, 2010 8:49:00 AM
Lewis Earnest and Jason Cobb feel their teams are ready to make postseason runs.
Those journeys will start a day earlier than expected when the Hamilton High School baseball and fast-pitch softball teams begin play today in the opening rounds of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 2A playoffs.
The Hamilton baseball team (16-3) will play host to Broad Street in a doubleheader at 4 p.m., while the softball team (15-8) will play at 6 tonight at East Union.
The softball team, which won its district, will play host to game two and an if needed game three Friday.
Both teams opted to move the dates for game one of their best-of-three series up a day because inclement weather is forecast for the area Friday and Saturday.
Earnest, whose team also won its district, said he isn''t sure when or where game three of his team''s series would be if it is needed.
"We have been playing good defense lately and hitting ball a little better," said Earnest, whose team is coming off a 9-8 loss to Class 4A Itawamba Agricultural on Thursday. "Our pitching has been pretty good all year, so feel pretty good about it, at least the first round anyway. You never know what you''re going to face, but we feel good about it."
Hamilton is a contender to come out of the North Half and compete for a state title. The Lions were in that position last year, too, but saw their season end to Water Valley at home with a 21-7 record.
Earnest said Hamilton hasn''t talked a lot about the disappointment of last season. He said this year''s team seems to be "more together" and has benefited from solid team chemistry. The result has been a team that has shook off a slow start at the plate to deliver clutch performances.
"Our hitting has gotten better throughout the year," Earnest said. "We seem to be a little more disciplined at the plate and doing some things we have to do to get runs in. We have bunted the ball a little bit lately and have moved runners, and we have done a good job with two strikes not striking out."
Junior center fielder Chase Reeves is one of the Lions'' hitting leaders. His status on the mound for the playoffs is uncertain. Earnest said he hopes to have Reeves, who has seen limited innings this season, available at some point in the playoffs.
If not, he said he is confident with a rotation that includes Dylan Earnest (8-0), Austin Earnest (5-1), and Brandon Fikes.
"I think we''ll be fine," Earnest said. "Dylan has been the centerpiece all year, and Austin has thrown the ball well all season. I don''t have any hesitation putting him out there against anyone. Brandon Fikes has thrown well for us, so we have two or three or four guys we can throw out there and give a you chance to win."
Cobb feels his team, which is riding a seven-game winning streak, has an equally strong shot to win. He spent much of Wednesday getting the Lady Lions'' home field ready to play Friday. The tornado the passed through the area blew the roof off the team''s dugout on the first-base line and blew it into the light tower. Cobb said the lights still weren''t working Wednesday but that he hoped they would be ready in time for Friday.
Cobb feels his players will be set whenever the playoffs begin. Hamilton is coming off a Class 2A slow-pitch state title in the fall and a loss to Loyd Star in the Class 2A fast-pitch championship series in 2009.
This year''s fast-pitch team has a blend of experience -- seniors Shelby Savage, Lyndsey Williams, Katie Beth Dahlem, and Chauncia Willis -- and newcomers, with eighth-graders Raimi Bryan (left field), Cheyenne Logan (right field), and Taylor Hyland (second base).
Logan has stepped in to replace Lexus Jordan, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament in her knee in the next to last week of the season in a game against Hatley.
Cobb said the mix of classes has come together at the right time, and he hopes the Lady Lions can keep it going.
"I feel pretty good about them," Cobb said. "We have a veteran group and they have played in some big games the last couple of years. They seem to be pretty focused. We probably have played our best ball the last couple of weeks of the season."
Hamilton last played Thursday, beating Amory. Cobb said he doesn''t like that his team has had that long of a layoff, but he said the team has responded to the challenge. He said it earned tough victories against East Webster and Hatley to go 6-0 in the district.
Cobb said improved play on defense and timely hitting have been keys in the winning streak.
"The last seven games it seems like we have had more two-out hits," Cobb said. "We also have gotten the bunt down when needed to."
Hamilton also had the luxury of having four pitchers -- Savage, Williams, Anna Imel, and Jordan -- before Jordan got hurt. He said all of the varsity pitchers and his four junior varsity pitchers have done "outstanding" jobs this season.
He said it has been strange to have as many younger players emerge, but he credits those players for playing a lot of tournament ball and coming in tested.
"They have really stepped up," Cobb said. "When the seniors or the juniors haven''t produced at the plate or scored runs, those kids have stepped in there. Maybe they are so young that they don''t seem to be scared of anything."
Cobb also credits leadoff hitter Caitlyn Atkins, who is hitting better than .500, for helping to set the tone.
"Very rarely do we have a night when everyone is off," Cobb said. "It seems like when someone is not hitting well someone else is stepping in and filling in."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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