June 26, 2010 11:30:00 PM
Starkville Acadedmy''s three Dizzy Dean World Series losses this weekend ended its chances of progressing to today''s elite eight.
The young squad began Saturday''s doubleheader with an 11-4 rain-soaked loss to Neshoba Central, which saw the entire West Point site shift to Heritage Academy Saturday due to rain and lightning.
Starkville Academy''s final Dizzy Dean game against West Point was not finished before press time.
The Volunteers (8-3) were in must-win mode entering Saturday''s round of games after losing 11-1 to Center Hill and 5-4 to Kosciusko at home Friday.
Pitching proved to be Starkville Academy''s Achilles heel for two of its losses over the weekend, though senior Ian Tharp turned in a complete game in the loss to Kosciusko
Junior Alex Holtcamp gave up 10 runs against Center Hill, but upcoming freshman Michael Miller gave up two runs in 2 1/3 innings of relief.
Shaky pitching turned a decent day at the plate on its head Saturday, as Starkville Academy starter Hunter Bolin left after four innings and seven runs to his name. The sophomore gave up seven hits and struck out three before Steven Robertson hit six batters and gave up four runs in just 1 2/3 innings.
The Vols had closed the gap to 7-4 with RBI singles from Robertson and Drew Pellum, finding its offensive rhythm in the third and fourth innings when the game was moved to Heritage.
"That was good to see and we really started stringing hits together and moving runners," Starkville Academy coach Neal Henry said. "However, you can have all the great offense you want, but you can''t win unless you have a good game on the mound. We struggled some today and it''s hard to fight your way back from that. I like the way we finished the Kosciusko game though, and we''ve got some young guys who got great experience playing some really good teams."
The Vols, who lost pitcher Will Fuller to graduation, will enter next spring with Holtcamp, Bolin and Tharp as their top three pitchers. Tharp will be a senior and Holtcamp will be a junior next season and Henry is keen for both to develop into a solid one-two starting tandem.
"You look at those guys and I think what''s left for them is to get more bullpen work to get stronger," Henry said. "Last year, it was my fault that I didn''t get those guys the bullpen reps I wanted to. They need to get stronger, continue working to hit spots and just get a little bit more experience."
The Vols finished 14-16 overall and 7-14 in conference play in the spring, finishing the season in better form than they did to begin the year.
Following a summer-league doubleheader win over New Hope earlier this month, Henry was excited to have his first summer season with the squad after taking over the squad in the spring. When the spring ended, Henry believed the team had turned the corner in adjusting to a new coach and a new way of doing things.
"We''ve made good progress and I don''t think there''s any more transition for these guys or myself," Henry said. "That said, this Dizzy Dean experience was good for us. I thought we handled some things well and adjusted to some of the things we wanted to do differently. In some instances I wanted to see how they would do on their own, and I think they handled things well.
"We''re on course with where we need to be."
Henry is pleased with the progress his team has made offensively, and the Vols figure to have another solid lineup when spring 2011 rolls around. Senior shortstop/second baseman Kyle Henson scored a team-high 27 runs and stole 27 bases, while Bolin batted .417 with 12 RBIs. Junior pitcher/infielder Ryan Mann hit .385 with 30 RBIs and a team-high 10 doubles.
What the second-year Starkville Academy coach would like to see is focus in between innings. He bemoaned the loss to the Whippets because of a blown one-run deficit that stretched to four. Saturday, after closing the gap to three against Neshoba, the Volunteers gave up fours runs in the top of the fifth.
"I''ve tried preach to our guys that we need shut-down innings in the field and on the mound after we have a good inning at the plate," Henry said. "We need to learn to go out, have a quick inning, and get right back in the dugout again."