May 10, 2018 10:41:04 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
When the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) baseball playoffs shift into the semifinal round tonight, few teams have a more daunting task than Kosciusko.
In Class 4A play, Kosciusko has to beat Region 4 rival New Hope to earn a right to play next week for the state championship. Not only will Kosciusko have to find a way to reverse its regular-season trend against New Hope (two losses), it also will have to win once for sure, if not twice at New Hope.
Consider that an enormous task.
Typically, there is no such thing as home-field advantage in high school athletics. A few basketball gyms can be more intimidating than others. However, football and baseball teams rarely have a substantial advantage playing at home.
That isn't the case at New Hope. On a short list of baseball powers around the state, such as Petal, Oak Grove, Hattiesburg, and West Lauderdale, New Hope boasts one of the state's best home-field advantages.
Last Friday in a 4-3 victory against Ripley, New Hope erased a 3-0 fifth-inning deficit to complete a sweep of the third-round series. The Trojans played before the largest home crowd of the season, if not the largest in a couple of seasons.
"The place was loud," New Hope senior catcher Cade Odom said. "New Hope has a lot of tradition, so I have seen crowds like this out here. However, I have never played before one of them, so to be out there on the field with all of those people in the stands, it was exciting.
"They got into the game, too. Not only did everybody show up to support us, they got into the game and they were a major factor in the win. It's great when you hear that roar when something good happens."
New Hope Booster Club president Brad Braddock played a role in the large crowd Friday night. Prior to the game, Braddock and a couple of other booster club members raised $700 from some area merchants in a couple of hours.
Those funds were set aside to pay the admission to the first 100 New Hope students who attended the game. The student turnout is always strong at New Hope. On this night, the place was wild.
"It just means so much," New Hope coach Lee Boyd said. "The booster club has done something like this in the past before, but this time around it was hugely successful. It means a lot to the players. It's like the whole community was coming together as one to support this team. You don't have that support if you don't put a good product on the field and if you don't have genuinely good people playing for the program."
New Hope was a regular contender for the Class 5A championship under Boyd. It won the Class 5A title in 2013 and 2014 but had other attempts thwarted, including more than a few by Oxford.
This school year, Oxford moved up to Class 6A, while New Hope dropped to Class 4A. The Trojans breezed through region play with an undefeated record. In the postseason, New Hope (27-5) completed the sweep of Ripley to move to 6-1.
During the regular season, the Trojans won with lots of offense. In the postseason, the Trojans have relied on stellar pitching and top-notch defense. There is no reason not to think the offense won't kick back into high gear.
In the playoffs, New Hope routed Senatobia before needing late pushes to get past Mooreville in a three-game series and Ripley. When the team needed it the most, the crowd was there to give its endorsement and motivation.
"This is a special place," New Hope sophomore pitcher Ryan Burt said. "People talk about baseball all the time. When you take the field and see a large crowd, it motivates you more. It makes you want to do the impossible. These people have given their time to see you play, so you want to give back."
Since 2010, New Hope is 102-24 record at home. That record includes a lot of region victories and postseason victories.
Recent renovations have made an already powerful Trojan Field that much better.
Tonight, Kosciusko will contend with all of the history and tradition of the New Hope program. It also will have to contend with a pretty good baseball team.
Here's hoping their battle plan is supreme.
Scott Walters is a sports writer for The Dispatch. He ca be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.