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Hamilton drops series opener


Adam Minichino



PEARL -- For three and a half innings Tuesday, the Hamilton High School baseball team looked like a squad that was going to defy the odds. 


Not only did the Lions put the controversy with Bruce High School behind them, but they also used a strong start by Dylan Earnest to quiet the Richton High School bats and take an early two-run lead. 


But one of the most unusual sequences in recent state title series history helped the Rebels tie the game and changed the momentum to put the Lions'' season in jeopardy. 


Blaze Napier and Matthew Rylee hit home runs, Tilur Smith scattered seven hits, and Richton made the most of two errors in an 8-4 victory against Hamilton in game one of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 2A State title series at Trustmark Park. 


Richton (30-3), which beat Hamilton in three games for the 2008 Class 2A title, will try to close the series at 1 p.m. today. 


Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest said he was leaning toward starting junior left-hander Chase Reeves to try to help the Lions (22-5) keep their season alive. 


To accomplish that goal, Hamilton will need a crisper effort at the plate and in the field. The Lions failed to execute four sacrifice bunt attempts in the top of the second, had a runner from third base not tag on a flyball to right field in the same inning, and then committed at least three more mistakes in the bottom of the fourth that helped turn the game in Richton''s favor. 


"They took advantage of our mistakes," said Dylan Earnest (11-1), who allowed eight hits and seven runs (three earned) in 5 1/3 innings. "We did the same early. They had a couple of errors early and we took advantage of them. We had more (errors) than they did. You can''t make errors. You have to play solid defense with a good team, and a good team is going to take advantage of your mistakes." 


Trailing 2-0, JaCoby Jones (three hits) singled to lead off the bottom of the fourth. With one out, Rakeem Sims walked to set the stage for David Walley, who popped up to second base. The first base umpire immediately signaled for an infield fly, but Austin Welch didn''t catch the swirling popup and it bounced away to his right. Both runners took off on the miss, but Welch recovered and threw in time to second base to retire Sims. Unfortunately, the Lions thought it was a force play and threw to second and didn''t tag Sims. Hamilton realized its mistake and caught Sims in a rundown between third and second. The Lions forced him back to second, but the return throw to the base was too high and got away, which allowed Jones to score and Sims to go to third. Dylon Stringer''s single made it 2-2. 


"I think it sparked us a little bit," Richton coach Brandon Davis said. "I think it just let us relax a little more. If we relax, we play a great game of baseball." 


The spark turned into a fire in the fifth. 


Rylee reached on a throwing error to start the inning and scored on a double by Smith. Napier, a left-handed hitting designated hitter, then did the improbable by turning on a pitch on the outside corner and jacking it over the right-field wall to give the Rebels a 5-2 lead. 


"I made some pretty good pitches and they put some pretty good swings on some balls and hit some balls hard," Earnest said. "The first home run I threw a pitch on the outside corner and he somehow yanked it down the line." 


Earnest then hit Jones, who stole second and went to third on a wild pitch. He tried to distract Earnest by taking running starts off third before he finally attempted to steal home. Catcher Parker Rye had the ball in time to come out and tag Jones, but he dropped the ball to make it 6-2. 


In the sixth, Rylee, a right-handed hitting center fielder, smacked a pitch that was down and in off the foul pole in left field to make it 7-2 and end Earnest''s evening. Brandon Fikes came on in relief and gave up three hits and another run before ending the inning. 


Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest said he knew Richton, which hit more than 40 home runs entering the series, was going to hit the ball. But he felt his team''s lack of execution played a key role. 


"They got a lot more opportunities to hit because we couldn''t catch a dadgum popup," Earnest said. "You let three popups fall in the infield and good things are not going to happen. The steal at home we dropped the ball, the infield fly we don''t make the tag, and then we throw it away when we had a chance to get the out. It looked like a Little League circus. 


"They''re a good ballteam, and you can''t give a good ballteams extra chances, and that''s what we did." 


Smith (3-for-4, double, RBI) did the rest. Davis thought Smith got a little winded running the bases, but he didn''t show any effects aside from the first few innings. He looked like he lost his rhythm in the second and fourth innings when Hamilton scored on an RBI single by Nathan Cockerham and on a sacrifice fly by Rye. But he regrouped and didn''t allow a hit from the third through the sixth inning. 


"That is why he is 10-0," Davis said of Smith, a senior right-hander. "He is not lighting up the radar gun, but he is pitching. He is a competitor. That is what the bottom of our lineup did, and that''s what Tilur Smith did." 


Reeves had a two-run triple in the seventh after Cockerham and Kevin McCartney reached on infield singles. Smith walked two and struck out three in the complete-game effort. 


"We had every opportunity in the world, but I don''t know. That is just kind of how it has been here lately for us," Reeves said. "We get a chance to capitalize on peoples'' mistakes and we get a chance to take the lead big and blow a game open and we can''t do it." 


Reeves said the Lions compounded their inability to knock Smith out with a lack of execution in other facets. He said the scoreboard only showed the Lions committing two errors, but he said the team made more than that. 


"It is frustrating because we had an opportunity to take a one-game lead," Reeves said. "Against a team like Richton, they have too many weapons. We have to come here (today) and play a little better." 


Coach Earnest credited Smith for pitching well, but he felt the Lions should have hit him better. He thought his team had the momentum early only to see it fizzle away with each miscue. 


"After the infield fly you give them two runs and I know that is when the tide turned," Earnest said. "We went down and they got up and it never changed. 


"I thought Dylan pitched pretty good. He faced a lot more batters than he should have. If we make the plays, he doesn''t face near as many batters, they don''t get near as many pitches, and they don''t get near as many chances to hit." 



Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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