June 19, 2010 10:54:00 PM
Lee Boyd has had a heck of year.
The New Hope native took over his alma mater''s baseball team, reclaimed the district title, made it to the second round of the playoffs, and with his wife, Allison, welcomed his first child into the world.
He''s still relishing everything that happened to him one month after capping another solid year in Trojans baseball.
Much like girls basketball coach Laura Lee Holman, another New Hope High School graduate, Boyd made the most of his first season back home by claiming a district title.
The Dispatch All-Area Large Schools Baseball Coach of the Year steered the Trojans to a 23-8 record, including a midseason run in which they won 15 of 16 games thanks to a resurgent offense.
Nine seniors, three of which entered the season as starters, eased Boyd''s transition from being an assistant coach at Neshoba Central High.
Backed by a fanbase that made midseason games "look like playoff games," Boyd was at home and didn''t feel the pressure of being a rookie head coach at his tradition-rich, hometown school.
"I know this community and how special baseball is to them," Boyd said. "You ask our kids how unreal game nights are. I think that really helped us, and words can''t really describe how I felt this year.
"It brings back memories of 13 years ago and things we accomplished."
Boyd often uses the word "special" when talking about the 2009-10 season. And while he has a dozen reasons why he feels that way, the night his daughter Audrey was born stands out.
On April 9, New Hope was at Saltillo for a pivotal district game that could have given Saltillo the tiebreaker in the event of a tie. Three days earlier, New Hope lost to Saltillo 10-8 at home.
While Boyd was in the hospital with his wife, senior pitcher Blake Roberts powered the Trojans to a 4-0 win.
"It was a must-win for us because we were 2-2 in the division," Boyd said. "West Point, Saltillo, and Oxford -- that''s a tough district. This is my first-born child and it''s incredible. I don''t know how someone can see something like that and not believe in God.
"To have my kids calling me and texting me to tell me they did it, to tell me they beat them, I get choked up just thinking about it. Hands down the most special moment of the season."
Playing Neshoba Central in the first round of the postseason added to the emotion-packed season, Boyd said.
"It was special, but it was tough knowing all those kids and the great times we had together," he said.
New Hope''s pitching staff, led by Roberts (5-2, 2.04 ERA) and Dillon Hawkins (0.81 ERA, 34 2/3 innings), was five arms deep and the backbone of the team. Combined with Jake Smith, Gabe Franks, and Jake Upton, the rotation had a 1.67 ERA. Each pitcher finished the season with an ERA less than 2.25.
"Blake Roberts, Upton, Hawkins, Smith, and Gabe Franks were all phenomenal for us," Boyd said. "You look at our pitching statistics and we didn''t have two guys with max innings."
Four of New Hope''s five pitchers were seniors. Boyd had some familiarity with all of the seniors, including the six who hadn''t been full-time starters. He wasn''t sure if the team would get the production needed to have a chance at a state title. The first-year starters seized the opportunity.
"You look at kids like Gabe Franks, who hit around .370, and Davis Lee, who hit .410 and was a DH last season," Boyd said. "(Brent) Younger went from hitting .190 to .325, and (Philip) Tice had great numbers again.
"They made my transition coming in here so much easier. I''ve known these kids, and I''ve seen them grow up, but this is my first chance I had to coach here. They bought in to my system and did what I asked."
As exciting as the season was for Boyd, falling short in the playoffs had to be put into perspective. Boyd felt this year''s squad was strong enough to challenge for state, but he admits it caught fire too early.
"Talent wise, we had the team and we got extremely hot toward the end of the season," Boyd said. "You look at the 16-5 Oxford game, the 13-3 Saltillo game, and we won a district title for the first time in a couple of years. We were playing hot, but just didn''t get hot at the right time.
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