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Fourth inning propels Starkville past Columbus

 

Adam Minichino

 

STARKVILLE --┬áThe opportunities were there for both teams. 

 

With the score tied after three innings, it looked like neither team was going to take advantage. 

 

That''s when the Starkville High School baseball team finally capitalized. 

 

An infield hit and a throwing error morphed into a five-run fourth inning thanks to a two-run double by R.J. Johnson to propel Starkville past Columbus 7-4 on Tuesday night at Yellow Jacket Field. 

 

Johnson (2-0) didn''t need anymore runs, scattering four hits in a complete-game effort. The right-hander struck out 11 and walked three. 

 

Starkville coach Danny Carlisle praised Johnson''s effort but wished the Yellow Jackets (5-1) would have cashed in opportunities earlier in the game. 

 

"We had opportunity after opportunity after opportunity but didn''t take advantage," Carlisle said. "They had opportunities and didn''t take advantage. We were just fortunate in that one inning we did put up a few runs." 

 

Nick Brooks started the fourth with a bouncer down the third-base line. Third baseman Avery Ford elected to field the ball instead of letting it roll so it possibly could go foul. Ford then slipped and fell, allowing Brooks to reach. 

 

No. 9 hitter P.J. Robinson followed with a sacrifice bunt that pitcher Nick Durrah fielded. He had to wait a moment for second baseman Dylan Patel to get to first base and then threw wide of first, pulling Patel off the bag. 

 

One out later, a run scored on a wild pitch. A single by Jayson Keel pushed Robinson to third and set the stage for Johnson''s double that scored two runs. Daniel Forde and Blake Dawkins added RBI singles in the inning to make it 7-2. 

 

Carlisle said the fourth inning was one time this season when the Yellow Jackets made the most of their chances. 

 

"The difference between a good team and a really good team is you take advantage of all of your scoring opportunities," Carlisle said. "We haven''t done that this year. I hope we don''t slip below good and become an average team, but we have to start taking advantage." 

 

Chuck Tillery had three hits and an RBI as Starkville''s leadoff hitter. Dawkins also had two hits. 

 

Staked to a five-run lead, Johnson didn''t lose focus. He struck out the side in the fifth before allowing a two-run double to Josh Tentoni in the sixth. But Johnson worked around a single to Dylan Anderson in the seventh to finish what he started. 

 

"He pitched extremely well," Carlisle said. "He worked ahead in the count. I think right there at the end he got a little tired and Tentoni hit a double when (Johnson) was ahead in the count." 

 

Columbus coach Jeff Cook said the Falcons helped Johnson too many times in at-bats, which allowed the right-hander to be strong enough to finish the game. 

 

Cook also lamented his team''s lack of focus. He said the team''s tendency to give up a big inning worked against it again Tuesday. 

 

"I told the guys yesterday it is focus," Cook said. "Our guys weren''t focused yesterday at practice and I told them we were going to have a bad inning because we weren''t focused. I have been preaching to these guys every pitch, every play being mentally ready to play. We just had that one inning where we didn''t come out and make the plays." 

 

Cook said the Falcons'' habit for allowing a big inning is frustrating particularly because several of the team''s two-year starters aren''t stepping up and making plays when the Falcons need them. 

 

Columbus'' ability to make one or two plays in the fourth likely would have changed the course of the inning and could have helped Durrah last past the fourth. 

 

As it was, Tyji Hawkins came on in relief and pitched well in the final three innings. The Falcons turned the second of their two double plays in the sixth and showed they are capable of making the plays when they are focused. 

 

Cook said the only problem is that mind-set has had a perplexing tendency to come and go this season. Coupled with the Falcons'' inability to take advantage of chances, the combination proved too much to overcome. 

 

"Every play you have to be ready," Cook said. "If we make the bunt in the fourth maybe they score only two runs. Every play you have to be focused and ready to go and know what is going on and where you''re going. That is something we have been preaching for three years. It is frustrating that guys who are second-year starters aren''t making those plays. 

 

"There has always been one inning where we lose focus and either make the game closer than it should be or we give it away. We did it Saturday against Hamilton (in an 11-7 loss) and we did it again tonight." 

 

Anderson, Billy Autrey, and Austin Stovall also had hits for Columbus, which will play host to Starkville at 7 p.m. Thursday.  

 

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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