February 28, 2014 12:24:51 PM
Lee Boyd isn't a big sabermatrician.
But the New Hope High School baseball coach knows enough about history to realize his team faces an unusually difficult challenge this season. Part of the toughness involves being one of the state's most respected programs that typically gets the best game from every opponent. The challenges New Hope will face this season figure to be even harder due to the bull's eye on the team's back after winning the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state title.
That's where the numbers come in.
Boyd has researched past champions and knows defending state champions or national repeat as titlists 17-18 percent of the time. As a result, Boyd said New Hope enters its season opener at 6 tonight at home against Amory as an "underdog in disguise." Boyd feels that notion has clicked with an experienced team that already has three players -- Will Golsan (Ole Miss), J.C. Redden (East Mississippi Community College), and Taylor Stafford (Mississippi State) -- with their college baseball plans set. In no way, though, does the return of those three players as well as veterans like Rooke Coleman and Parker Earhart guarantee the Trojans will add to their title haul this season.
"I just know that if you live in the past bad things are probably going to happen in the future," Boyd said. "We want (the 2013) completely out o their mind. I am proud of them. I am proud of the accomplishment of our program and the effort they put in last year, but, at the same time, they have to remember that was last season.
"People are after us. They are going to want to beat us. If we take last season's success and try to put that to this year, it is going to difficult. I have tried to put that in the back of their minds and for them to leave last season where it was."
Boyd feels the team has had a good offseason and enters 2014 with a pitching staff that could have plenty of options. He said Redden will start tonight and Josh Stillman will start at 5 p.m. Saturday against Hernando. The Trojans also figure to have Golsan, who will be the team's shortstop, and Stafford, the center fielder, in the mix as starting pitchers and relievers. Those four will have to come together to make up for the loss of Landon Boyd.
Stafford said last season has been mentioned a lot in an attempt to keep the team from thinking about the magnitude of the accomplishment. He said it will be imperative for the Trojans not to be complacent and to realize this group will have to work hard to prove it is capable of doing the same thing.
"We still have to go out and play our tails off and give everything we have," Stafford said. "We have to lift other guys up. They even have to lift us up sometimes. We all have to work together and play hard on the field.
"Our top four pitchers will be real solid. We have some guys behind that who I am sure will really step up. Josh Stillman is going to be really good for us. That is out strong point right now. We have some guys who can hit, but we just have to get some at-bats against varsity pitching. Once we get that going I think we will be fine."
Golsan said he and his teammates have repeating as state champions in the back of their minds because fans and friends say it has never been done and that the team can't do it. He said that serves as motivation to help keep the Trojans on doing their jobs and not trying to do too much.
"Our defense has been exceptional this year," Golsan said. "Our pitching is going to be real good. Batting wise, we just have to find that timing and everything that comes with it. We just have to be patient."
Jake Hollis (catcher), Wells Davis (first base), Earhart (second base), Stillman (third base), Redden (outfield), and Jerrod Bradley (outfield), Jonathan Holley, Sam Taylor, Bridger Massey also will compete for playing time. With solid depth, Boyd knows any suggested starting lineups in February could be different in May, so he is eager to see if any of the other players emerge to play key roles.
Last season, New Hope's bats were quiet at the end of the regular season, but they came alive at the right time to fuel the postseason run. The Trojans benefited from a balanced attack up and down the lineup. He feels the 2014 team could resemble the 2013 in that way.
Statistically speaking, New Hope might be considered a "long shot" to repeat at Class 5A state champions, but Boyd laughs at that and knows a lot of things could happen to put his team back in that position.
"I think we have the chance to be good in pitching and in all aspects," Boyd said. "I feel we have the pieces in place to be competitive and to win some games. All I can say is we're going to play as hard as we can and, hopefully, the results will happen for us.
"I know (winning another state title) is a long shot and a long way off, but that would be nice."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @cdispatch.com
3. MHSAA delays start of fall sports by two weeks HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS