May 2, 2010 12:07:00 AM
PHILADELPHIA — The Neshoba Central High School baseball program welcomed Lee Boyd back home Saturday night.
The Rockets enjoyed Boyd’s stay so much they’ll make a return trip to Lowndes County to see him again Monday.
Robert Greer pitched a complete-game six-hitter and Neshoba Central capitalized on a two-run error for a 3-2 victory in game two of its best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A opening-round playoff series.
“It was probably the best game he has pitched all year,” Neshoba Central coach Brian Jones said of Greer. “He had that capability. He was the first one here today. That is what one of the catchers said, and he was ready to go. Their guy (Gabe Franks) was the same way, just a couple of hits here and there.”
Neshoba Central’s victory means New Hope (22-6) will play host to game three Monday night in Columbus.
New Hope likely won’t welcome Neshoba Central back with a banner like the one fastened to the home bleachers that read “Welcome Back Boyd.” The sign was a hospitable gesture to Boyd, their former assistant coach, who is in his first season as New Hope’s head coach.
But Boyd left his “home” disappointed after the Trojans failed to generate much offense against the right-handed Greer.
“Give them all of the credit because they made every play, they made diving plays, the center fielder falls down and catches the game-winner on his rear end, the third baseman makes two outstanding plays, they turn a double play with a scoop at first base, but I think we came out flat,” Boyd said. “I think we’re a lot better hitting club than that. We were up one game to nothing and I kind of felt maybe we felt too comfortable. A lot of times we play better with our backs against the wall. ... I kind of felt like we were too comfortable and too laid back until about the fourth or the fifth inning until we realized we had to turn the switch on, and by then it was too late.”
Greer struck out five and walked two (one intentionally) and allowed three of his hits in the top of the seventh when the Trojans tried to rallied.
But center fielder Terrance Steele recovered from a slip and fall to catch Brent Younger’s fly ball to end the game and send the series back to Columbus.
New Hope came alive in the seventh too late after Boyd chastised his players for “going through the motions” in between the bottom of the third and the top of the fourth.
Franks singled and moved to second on Jake Upton’s one-out single. Jared Shelton’s single made it 3-2. Seth Stillman’s groundout pushed the runners to third and second and set the stage for leadoff hitter Philip Tice. But Jones opted to intentionally walk Tice to load the bases and set the stage for Younger.
Neshoba Central (20-9) scored two of its three runs on consecutive throwing errors in the third to take a 2-0 lead. The Trojans looked to be in good shape after center fielder Jake Smith delivered a laser putout throw to second baseman Shelton that erased Greer after he tried to stretch a single in the left-center field gap.
But leadoff hitter Caleb Crenshaw got things started with a single and Franks hit Steele. With Dustin Floyd up, the Rockets tried a double steal and catcher Upton’s throw went into left field, allowing Crenshaw to score. The return throw from left fielder Davis Lee to third base deflected into the dugout, which pushed a second run home.
“You pretty much give them their two runs and I think we had a couple of mental lapses,” Boyd said. “We made a couple of baserunning mistakes, but I hope that is a lesson learned. You can’t come out here and go through the motions and expect to beat anybody.”
New Hope answered in the fourth as Younger walked and moved to second on a single by Lee. The Trojans caught a break after Smith failed on two sacrifice bunt attempts when Greer uncorked a wild pitch to put runners on third and second. Younger scored on shortstop K.J. Moore’s throwing error on Smith’s groundball. Lee moved to third on the play and didn’t score on Franks’ double-play groundball. Dusty Dyson then struck out to end the threat.
Neshoba Central scored what proved to be the winning run in the bottom half of the inning. Caleb McKee led off with a single, moved to second on a groundout, and scored on Brandon James’ single.
The Trojans avoided further damage after Kameron Bryan’s wind-blown single turned into a 7-5-3 putout when he tried to stretch the hit into a double and realized the runner in front of him hadn’t advanced.
n New Hope 6, Neshoba Central 2: Gabe Franks’ two-out, two-run double in the bottom of the fourth gave the Trojans the lead for good and helped them take a 1-0 lead in the series.
After striking out in his first two at-bats against left-hander Caleb McKee, Franks took a 1-2 curveball and lined a double down the third-base line to score two in a three-run fourth that helped make a winner of Jake Smith.
“(McKee) is just a good pitcher,” Franks said. “He was working the outside real good. A couple of them slipped by and I thought they were a little outside, but you have to fight with two strikes and I just didn’t do that.”
Franks said he was looking for a fastball and adjusted to the curveball that was up just enough to drive.
“I just kept my weight back and drove it down the third-base line,” Franks said. “Luckily, it went right by the third baseman and it scored two runs.”
New Hope coach Lee Boyd credited McKee (13 strikeouts) for a strong outing. But he said at-bats like Franks’ have become commonplace for the Trojans in their district championship season.
“He is a great pitcher, but Gabe is one of those kids who is just like the rest of my boys, they just continue to battle,” Boyd said. “We caught a break and it went inside the bag and we had a very speedy Jake Smith on base, who scored from first base. That was a big spark. We really needed that right there. I commend him for staying in there and continuing to fight.”
Smith came on after starting pitcher Jake Upton allowed two runs to fall behind 2-1. He responded by striking out Dustin Skinner to escape the jam. Smith struck out six and allowed only two baserunners, a hit batter in the sixth and a walk in the seventh. He wiped out the walk by picking the runner off.
“We are blessed. We have five guys who I feel confident in that can throw the ball across the plate,” Boyd said. “I am not going to let one guys sit out there (and get hit). Not like Jake was getting beat up, by any means, because he had only given up two runs, but I feel we needed a couple of strikeouts to get out of a key situation. Jake (Smith) throws the ball pretty hard, and when he is on he is tough. Jake (Upton’s) knuckleball, he was having a tough time finding the strike zone with it. He had a game like that against Oxford. He didn’t throw as well (in that game) and he came back last week and threw a shutout against West Lauderdale.”
Jones thought the Rockets had something brewing against Upton after three consecutive singles, only to see Smith, a power-pitching right-hander, come in and shut the door.
“He settled things down,” Jones said of Smith. “We got a few hits there and I thought he was going to leave him in. He pulled him pretty quick and, to his credit, he did what he had to do.”
Jones said he made a bad call on the 1-2 pitch to Franks. He said they had Franks as an opposite-field hitter and they tried to bury a curveball up under his hands. The location wasn’t there and Franks made them pay.
“You miss your spot and the guy did what he needed to do to get a hit out of it,” Jones said. “Those were two big runs right there.”
McKee was equally tough. He worked out of bases-loaded jams in the first and second innings. His only blemishes aside from Smith’s RBI single and a run that scored on a throwing error in the sixth was a wild pitch that allowed a run to score in the third inning, Davis Lee’s RBI single in the fourth, and Franks’ hit.
Jones didn’t have a good feeling even after hol
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.