April 10, 2009
The Neshoba Central High School baseball team could be hitting its stride at the perfect time.
New Hope High School coach Stacy Hester hopes he will be able to say the same for his team.
Unfortunately, the Trojans will have to go on the road next week to play the deciding games of their first-round playoff series on the road.
New Hope''s 5-2 loss to Neshoba Central on Thursday night at Trojan Field cost it a chance to clinch second place in Class 4A, Region 4, District 4.
The loss means New Hope (16-9, 8-4 district) will be the No. 3 seed from Class 4A, Region 4, District 4 and will play host to Hernando in game one of the state playoffs on Friday.
The Trojans then will travel to Hernando on Saturday to play game two and an if-game in the best-of-three series.
New Hope can blame its playoff seeding on Neshoba Central''s Donnie Tabb and Caleb McKee, who were a little too stingy on the mound Thursday night.
Tabb (6-2), a senior right-hander, started and allowed two runs and five hits in five innings. McKee, a sophomore left-hander, didn''t allow a hit and struck out three in two innings to get his first save of the season.
"It was the same type of game as the West Lauderdale game (a 7-3 loss last week in Columbus). It was a big game and we needed to come out and play good to get the No. 2 seed," Hester said. "We competed well and hit the ball hard in the first four or five innings. Will (McReynolds) came out ready to play and some other kids did OK, but the bottom line is when we hit it we hit it right at them.
"We only had five hits, and we have to do better than that."
Neshoba Central used a four-run fifth inning to break the game open. With one out, Tabb doubled, moved to third on a single by Dustin Floyd, and scored when catcher Jake Upton''s throw to second base to try to retire Floyd went into center field.
Floyd then scored on a fielder''s choice. First baseman Hilton Gibson fielded the ball and looked at Floyd at third base. When Floyd broke for home, Gibson didn''t throw the ball and then reacted too late to move toward first base to get Caleb McKee.
Joel McKee made the Trojans pay for the mistakes with a two-run home run to left-center field that closed the scoring.
"We lost the game in the one inning when we gave them four or five outs," Hester said. "With the infield in we have a mental mistake and we don''t make the play. We work on that and go over that and preach that guys have to make the play. That didn''t happen and it led to four runs. When you go down 5-2 against a good pitcher, you know you have to get some breaks, hits, or errors, and we just didn''t do it."
Neshoba Central coach Brian Jones agreed that his has earned its reputation this season for its strong pitching and fielding.
"We have lived off our pitching all year," Jones said. "The three errors we made tonight are uncharacteristic."
The Rockets'' hitting?
Well, Jones said it has left a little to be desired, at least until recently, and not Thursday night.
The last six or seven games the guys have started to swing well," Jones said. "We''re starting to see confidence and swing a little better, and that carries over to other guys."
Tabb had two hits in the leadoff spot, while Joel McKee had three hits in the No. 5 spot.
McKee hit behind designated hitter Tyler Woods, who Jones said recently returned to the lineup from a broken leg to help solidify the lineup.
"You get a little confidence and things go their way," Jones said. "We have bounced around Joel McKee from the No. 1 hole to the No. 2 hole. We have had numerous lineups. When Woods went down that hurt us. We flip-flopped back and forth, but in the last eight or nine games we have run with this (with Tabb as the leadoff position)."
New Hope led 2-1 in through four innings thanks to a double by McReynolds and a single by Philip Tice in the first and another double by McReynolds and a fielding error in the third.
Tabb hot a solo home run against Blake Roberts in the third to help the Rockets (17-3, 10-2) tie the game at 1.
Tabb''s home run and his double and McKee''s home run came on pitches Roberts left up. The right-hander was strong through five innings, making just 78 pitches (58 for strikes). He allowed just one hit, a home run, in New Hope''s 2-1 victory in the teams'' first meeting this season.
"At our place, (Roberts) threw the curveball and it was bouncing off the plate and we were out front," Jones said. "He kept throwing it and we kept missing it. Tonight, he didn''t throw that many. The ones he did throw we were disciplined enough at the plate to take and we got a few fastballs and a few hanging curveballs around the belt."
New Hope will play host to Houston at 7 tonight and Columbus at 1 p.m. Saturday. Hester hopes those games and a strong week of practice next week will help the Trojans find their stride in time so they can extend their season past the first round of the state playoffs.
"I am disappointed we''re not playing well this time of year," Hester said. "They outplayed us. They got the big hits when they needed to, so give them credit. Our kids, I think they want to, but they''re not doing it on the field."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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