May 26, 2014 10:08:34 PM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
New Hope High School's baseball team made the seemingly impossible look might easy this season.
Determined to be the first team in this school's history to repeat as Mississippi High School Activities Association baseball state champions, this group stepped up to the challenge and approached it full-speed ahead.
"The second championship is so much better than the first one," New Hope junior pitcher Josh Stillman said. "The expectations were so much greater. A year ago, we were learning how to win and trying to win a championship. This season, from the beginning of the year, we were the team that was supposed to win the championship."
New Hope helped expectation become reality Saturday night with an 11-0 win over West Jones in the final game of a three-game series for the Class 5A championship at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
For repeating as state champions, the New Hope baseball team shares this school's year final Dispatch Prep Player of the Week honors.
"It was a special group no doubt about it," New Hope coach Lee Boyd said. "The thing about this team is they never grew satisfied after last season. They came out and worked even harder because repeating as state champions was that big a deal to them. When this group put their mind to something, it was getting done."
New Hope finished the season with a 32-4 overall record The Trojans won 20 of their final 21 games, including an 8-1 run through the playoffs. After spotting West Jones a 5-4 victory in the series opener, New Hope came roaring back with a shutout from J.C. Redden in a 3-0 win and a shutout from Josh Stillman in an 11-0, five-inning win. In the postseason, the Trojans won three times by the run-rule and four times by shutout.
"We really wanted to do this because it was something that had never been done at this school before," New Hope senior shortstop Will Golsan said. "We know how hard we worked to win the first championship. Honestly, I wasn't sure we could work harder but we did. We took on the challenge of being the best in the state again. This team could beat you a lot of different ways. We knew we had the parts. We just had to supply the effort that it takes to win a championship."
The sweetest postseason success may have been a series sweep of Oxford for the North State championship. Taylor Stafford threw a one-hitter in a 7-0 win to open the series. Redden went the distance 24 hours later in a hard-fought 3-2 win at Oxford. The Trojans suffered one of three regular season losses to the Chargers and were still smarting at losing the region crown to them in 2013. The final victory at Oxford was so dramatic, it led to a dog pile in Lafayette County.
That was simply a rehearsal for what was to come.
New Hope actually held a 4-0 lead in the first game before West Jones put together five runs on six straight hits in the sixth inning to steal the victory. The Mustangs would not be heard from again.
By the time, Payton Lane ripped a bases-clearing double in the fourth inning of Saturday's finale, the New Hope crowd was roaring at a fever pitch and the run rule was close. Stillman lost his perfect game bid in the fifth inning but New Hope's third double play of the championship series and a follow-up ground out completed the 44-pitch effort and also completed the state championship run.
"This is special because we made history," Stafford said. "When people talk about the state championship teams in this program's history, they will talk about us. They can also say we went back-to-back. That is special indeed."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter