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New Hope hosts Neshoba Central in series showdown


Adam Minichino



Lee Boyd hopes to see a little more fire from his team tonight. 


The first-year New Hope High School baseball coach opened his team''s game against Neshoba Central on Saturday night by asking his players to get him five runs in the fifth inning. 


Instead, the Trojans went scoreless in the first, had only six hits, and and scuffled through a 3-2 loss in game two of their best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A opening-round playoff series. 


New Hope (22-6) had three hits in the seventh when it scored one run and left the bases loaded. 


While crediting a strong pitching performance by right-hander Robert Greer, Boyd said the Trojans came out "flat." Boyd hopes the Trojans don''t deliver a repeat performance at 7 tonight in game three at Trojan Field. 


"I just don''t think we got ourselves prepared to play, and maybe that is my fault," Boyd said. "We''ll come back Monday and see what happens."  


The Trojans left the bases loaded in the first and second innings Friday in a 6-2 victory in game two. In game two, New Hope committed two throwing errors in the third that allowed Neshoba Central to score two unearned runs. Aside from those mistakes, the Trojans were strong behind a 61-pitch effort from Gabe Franks. The senior right-hander allowed five hits, struck out three, walked none, and hit two. He surrendered the two runs in the third after two were out and then allowed three more hits and the final run in the fourth. A wind-blown single turned into a 7-5-3 putout after a baserunning error and could have taken the Rockets out of a big inning. 


New Hope figures to have Dillon Hawkins and Blake Roberts available to start tonight. Franks also might be able to throw in a jam. 


Senior Jake Upton, who started game one, and classmate Jake Smith, who earned the victory in relief, also would likely be available if New Hope is in a situation where it needs innings to keep its season alive. 


"We will have several guys ready to go (on the mound)," Boyd said.  


The winner of tonight''s game will advance to play the winner of the Hernando-Lanier series, which is scheduled to begin Friday.  


Franks said Friday that the Trojans'' pitching depth could be a factor in the team''s ability to make a playoff run. 


"We have some great arms. They all could be No. 1 pitchers at other schools," Franks said. "It is good to have a pitching staff like ours. It helps in the playoffs." 


Boyd removed Upton with two outs in the fourth after Neshoba Central scored its two runs, He said all of his pitchers are on the same page and know they can be lifted in favor of another pitcher if he feels the situation warrants it.  


"Most all of them have strikeout capabilities," Boyd said. "You have a knuckleballer and then you bring in Jake (Smith), who throws 85 or 86 (mph), and it just looks a lot different. I use different guys depending on the team we''re playing, and it has a little effect on our opponent. 


"I just feel like we have five pitchers. I don''t have a true, dominant No. 1 that I feel I have to go with him against this squad to give us a chance to win. I believe if any one of them is on their game can give us a chance to win. We''re lucky to have that. You will have a lot of years when you don''t have that." 


Neshoba Central coach Brian Jones said Friday that he thought his team was "outmanned" following a 6-2 loss to New Hope in game one of the series. The Rockets showed the gritty type of play that has been their style Saturday. Shortstop K.J. Moore made one diving play and third baseman Austin Welch also played strong defense after a throwing error in the second inning nearly helped New Hope score an unearned run. 


Two of those defensive plays came in the sixth inning when New Hope hit starting pitcher Robert Greer hard but had only a single to show for it. 


In the seventh, Neshoba Central center fielder Terrance Steele slipped and fell but still managed to catch Brent Younger''s flyball to help the Rockets escape a bases-loaded jam. 


Jones praised his team''s play following the game and said his players will have to play the same way tonight if they want to have a chance to extend their season. 


"It may sound corny, and coach Boyd has been with us long enough to know, you can measure arm speed and how fast you are, but you can''t measure heart, you can''t measure desire," Jones said. "Our kids play hard. That is all I ask them ever to do, to play their best and they walk off the field and hold their heads high." 


Neshoba Central (20-9) also was aggressive at the plate against starting pitcher Gabe Franks, who threw only 61 pitches. To Franks'' and Greer''s credit, the game two lasted just a blip more than one hour, 30 minutes, which was a good thing because lightning rolled in shortly after the game ended. Neshoba Central kept the game moving by swinging at a lot of first pitches. Jones said his team will need to maintain that mind-set tonight. 


"We didn''t want to sit back in the count," Jones said. "They went after it. I think the wind cost us a home run there at the end, but I think they had a couple of balls that get down, too, maybe if the wind isn''t in play." 


Jones said he is unsure who will start on the mound tonight. Senior left-hander Caleb McKee struck out 13 Friday night and could be available for some duty. But Jones said one of his pitchers was involved in an incident at school Friday night and might not be available due to disciplinary action. He said that could leave the Rockets in a situation where they would be looking for everyone to chip in, but that sounds like the kind of adversity that would motivate the Rockets even more. 


"It will be a good game three" Jones said. "We played extremely well (Saturday). We pride ourselves on defense and, hopefully, pitchers throwing strikes. If you''re in the zone a lot, the guys are on their toes a lot. Credit to Greer and his pitching, and the defense was up to the task." 


Boyd didn''t use the fact that his team had to wait until 4 p.m. to leave Starkville on Saturday before it finally knew it was going to play as an excuse. He said the Trojans will have to be better prepared tonight if they want to keep their season alive. 


"I told the kids from the get-go they had to be ready," Boyd said. "They had to go through the same thing, and they were ready to go and I don''t think we came out 100 percent focused."


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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