May 25, 2014 12:20:04 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
PEARL -- Let the waiting game begin.
It's never easy to relax, especially one day after you surrender a 4-0 lead in what seems like a manner of minutes. But the New Hope High School baseball team played Friday afternoon like it was on a business trip. J.C. Redden and the Trojans didn't do anything too flashy and relied on a workmanlike effort to earn a 3-0 victory against West Jones in Game 2 of the best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state championship series at Trustmark Park. The victory enabled New Hope (31-4) to rebound from a 5-4 loss to West Jones on Thursday and even the series. It set up a winner-take-all game Saturday night to determine if New Hope would win back-to-back titles for the first time or if West Jones would claim its first state crown.
The magnitude of the moment that awaited 25 hours later was enticing for the Trojans.
"To be honest, I am ready to play right now," New Hope senior shortstop Will Golsan said. "I hate waiting on stuff like that because you have momentum and the way you play makes you want to go and get them right now. It is going to be hard. We're going to be anxious to play, but we're going to come out and give it our all."
New Hope had only five hits, including two each by Josh Stillman and Taylor Stafford. The Trojans scored their first run on a fielder's choice by Parker Earhart and another run on a ground out by Wells Davis. The other run scored on a double by Taylor Stafford. While the extra-base hit wasn't unusual for the senior center fielder, the way he did it was. On the first pitch of the at-bat in the bottom of the third, he fouled off a bunt attempt. Stafford said New Hope coach Lee Boyd told him to look to see if the third baseman was playing back. He was, so Stafford, a left-handed hitter, opted to try to drop a bunt down the third-base line. Boyd then gave Stafford the sign to bunt, thinking he wanted to manufacture another run to add to the 1-0 lead. The double to the left-center field gap allowed New Hope to exhale and forget a game in which it scored four runs in the top of the sixth only to have West Jones answer with five in the bottom half of the inning. A double by Payton Lane later in the inning helped New Hope add to the lead.
"I saw the ball to the bat really well," Stafford said. "I just dropped the barrel a little bit (on the bunt) and had it go foul, but I felt comfortable in that bat and really all game. We all felt pretty good against (pitcher Garrett Goodwin). His ball had a little bit of a tail on it. We knew he dropped sidearm and I knew the ball was going to tail away from me, so I stopped trying to pull the ball and stayed on it and took it to the opposite field."
Defensively, the Trojans turned two double plays to make things a little easier for Redden. The senior right-hander didn't have to be overpowering. He didn't strike out a batter, walked one, and hit another, but he pitched to contact and relied on a defense that made all of the plays -- from a running catch by right fielder Jerrod Bradley that took him all the way in to the tarp in front of the stadium seats to a diving catch by Stafford on a play he had to come in hard.
"Pitching and defense have kind of been our mainstay throughout the season, and we hope that continues tomorrow," Boyd said. "You can't speak enough about our guys the last couple of days as far as pitching and defense. We turned a couple of big double plays in key situations."
Those plays made it easier for Golsan, the team's leadoff hitter, to forget an evening in which he went 0-for-3 on ground balls to the shortstop. He said the Trojans' ability to play solidly behind Redden was the key to the victory. It gave them the confidence Friday was going to be a better day than Thursday.
"We just knew we weren't going to go down without a fight today," Golsan said. "We knew if we played hard we were going to get back tomorrow. Like we said, championships are won on Saturday, and that is what we're going to go for."
New Hope received a lift after the game when it learned it won the toss and would be the home team and call the third-base dugout home. The team enjoyed had the same good fortune in that dugout last season in its three-game series victory against Pascagoula for its first state title in 10 years.
The only problem Friday was that New Hope had to wait 25 more hours to duplicate that feat and make history in the process.
"It is going to be tough," Stafford said. "Everybody is anxious. We could go out there and play Game 3 right now, if we could. We had to wait yesterday a little bit shorter of a time period, but we wanted to get back out here after that loss last night and we waited to get to that point. We'll be fine. We will get some rest, hang out a little bit, and nurse some injuries and all and we will be good to go tomorrow."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.