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Starkville loses to have back to the wall

 

David Miller

 

MADISON -- The Madison Central baseball team scored 11 runs in two innings and had a mammoth day at the plate Thursday to beat Starkville 16-6 to open the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A state playoffs. 

 

Madison Central leadoff hitter Josh Crowder ended the game with a two-run, walk-off homer in the fifth inning to give the Jaguars a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. 

 

Starkville used four pitchers, walking nine batters against one of the best lineups in the state.  

 

Starkville starter Nick Brooks struggled to work the corners of the plate and searched for his command for the three innings he pitched.  

 

Brooks, whom Starkville coach Danny Carlisle started instead of ace R.J. Johnson, lasted just 2 1/3 innings and was rocked for five earned runs on four hits. He walked four and didn''t record a strikeout. 

 

Carlisle said Brooks was tentative, perhaps too aware of the strength of the Madison Central lineup. 

 

"He was trying to get too fine with it instead of just pitching," Carlisle said, "But I went with Nick because I thought he could beat them in this park." 

 

The free bases drew Carlisle''s ire, especially after he stressed the importance of not throwing bad pitches.  

 

"At one point, I look up and of their eight runs, seven of them came on a walk or a hit batter," Carlisle said. "We''ve got to throw strikes and continue to compete. If we throw strikes, we''re still playing."  

 

Johnson was Starkville''s consistent source of offense in the first-third of the game, opening the scoring with a monster homer over the centerfield wall before lining an RBI double down the left field line in the third.  

 

Johnson finished 3 for 3 with two RBIs and was a triple away from the cycle. 

 

Johnson, who suffered a bruised knee late in the game, lamented the team''s nervous demeanor, which he believes carried over into a lackluster performance.  

 

"We came out nervous and that''s what happened," Johnson said. "Madison isn''t doing anything special. We just didn''t play like we wanted this game." 

 

Nerves played a part, but the Yellow Jackets struggled against Madison Central starter Brayden Jones, who sat down Starkville''s order with strikeouts in the fourth and held Jackets to just three total bases through the fourth inning. 

 

Jones proved just as good as his stats indicated, striking out seven in four innings and giving up two earned runs on three hits.  

 

Hayden Higginbotham replaced Brooks to escape the third inning, which saw Parker Harrison drive in two runs and Defoe West record an RBI single. 

 

The Jaguars took advantage of the Jackets'' relief pitchers and opened a seven-run can in the bottom of the fourth as Higginbotham''s replacement, Reggie Campbell, labored through seven at-bats and gave up six runs before Starkville went into the fifth facing a 12-2 deficit. 

 

Jones'' exit, however, gave Starkville a lifeline as Jaquez Johnson drove in a run with a single and Johnson singled in a run off Josh Laxer in the top of the fifth. A Jags'' error in right field plated a pair of Starkville two-out runs to get the Jackets within 12-6. 

 

The Jaguars, who batted around the lineup in the third and fourth innings, answered Starkville''s spurt with a four-run fifth. Defoe West''s fielder''s choice that scored a run was followed by an error to score another run. 

 

Then, Crowder''s walk-off blast ended the game and put the pressure on Starkville to win today''s 4 p.m. game at Yellowjacket Field. 

 

Stanford Parks led Madison Central at the plate with a 3-for-3 performance, while Peyton Johnson was 1 for 3 with three RBIs and a two-run homer.  

 

Johnson will start today for Starkville, which must win to force Game 3. The rubber match would be played Monday at Madison Central. 

 

 

 

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