March 25, 2015 1:03:35 AM
Oxford High School baseball coach Chris Baughman talked about the importance of treating all nine region games equal.
Senior Jack McClure and junior Jason Barber then quickly added that Tuesday night had been circled on the calendar for quite some time.
Oxford and New Hope have formed quite a rivalry as the two Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A, Region 2 rivals fought to the end for region crowns in 2013 (Oxford winning) and 2014 (New Hope winning). The teams also met in the 2014 playoffs where New Hope eliminated Oxford before one week later winning its second straight state championship.
Thus four straight losses in the bitter rivalry had a senior-laden Oxford squad chomping at the bits Tuesday night. The Chargers put that energy to good use, running over the homestanding Trojans 9-0 in the region opener for each team at Trojan Field.
"I can't think of anything like the New Hope-Oxford rivalry in baseball," McClure said. "It's the best in 5A. It has really been built up the last couple of years, but it was big before that. It feels good to come out and do what we did tonight. We knew the importance of this game. They really had the upper hand on us last year but this is a new season so we really wanted to get things going in the right direction."
The teams play three times annually with the next meeting being Friday night in Oxford. A year ago, Oxford actually took a 5-1 victory at New Hope. That game led to a players-only meeting in the New Hope clubhouse and an 18-game win streak by the Trojans. In the regular season, New Hope won 3-2 and 4-2 at Oxford. In the playoffs, New Hope won 7-0 at home and 3-2 at Oxford to sweep the best-of-three series.
"Obviously, they have been waiting for this moment for some time," New Hope coach Lee Boyd said. "We really battled. Oxford hasn't lost a game (12-0 overall). They are ranked second in the state (by the Clarion-Ledger) and are in the Top 20 nationally. They lost two players off last year's team and picked up an Ole Miss commit. We have a group that is inexperienced and they just haven't played together. We have been in their position before. Oxford wants to beat us and I understand that.
"Quite simply, they beat us in every phase of the game. They have a good team and they were a lot better than us in a lot of areas."
Barber, a junior right-hander, has had his moments in the rivalry. Tuesday night, he was a dominating force on the mound with 11 strikeouts and two hits allowed.
"We just wanted to come out here and do what we have done all year," Barber said. "It's a big rivalry, but we wanted to treat it like another ballgame. It's way too early in the year to say that this right here is a really big game. We didn't want the emotions to play a role in the game. We wanted to come out and do what we have been doing all year. There was a bunch of hype going into this year. A lot of people think we have all of the tools to make the playoffs and to make it to state. It's just all a matter of staying healthy and doing what we need to do."
New Hope (5-3 overall) had a couple of chances early before Barber found his groove.
Leadoff man Will Godfrey walked on four pitches. Sam Taylor then grabbed a 3-0 advantage in the count before lining out. Two quick outs followed and the first inning was done.
An inning later, the Trojans reached two runners on an infield error and base hit by Carson Forrester. Again, this pair was stranded and pretty much all hopes on offense were gone.
Lane had the other New Hope hit with a single in the seventh inning.
New Hope senior and staff ace Josh Stillman played second base but did not pitch in the contest due to illness. Stillman is expected to start Friday night in Oxford. In his absence, senior Payton Lane battled before Oxford finally broke through.
The Chargers scored twice in the third inning and Barber aided his own cause with a mammoth home run during a three-run fourth inning, which ended Lane's night on the mound. McClure homered during a four-run, six-hit seventh inning as Oxford finally reached a tiring Hunter Graham in relief.
"Payton really competed," Boyd said. "We had a couple of plays in the field we didn't make. That would have made it a 5-0 or 6-0 game. Still, there is no way you can say you could have won the game. We battled on the mound and kept competing."
Oxford totaled 14 hits. Barber had three hits, while Grae Kessinger, McClure, Drew Phillips and Drew Bianco each had multiple hits.
"All nine region games are the same, so you can't get too high or too low," Baughman said. "We will see New Hope two more times in the regular season and you just go ahead and assume that you will see them in the playoffs. It makes for some great baseball. However, you can't get worked up about your opponent. I thought we settled in, played relaxed and played well."
While the season is still young and a very long region race still lies ahead, Oxford players couldn't help but be a tad bit happy about Tuesday night's performance.
"We don't plan on going undefeated or anything like that, but this was a good game to win," McClure said. "Of course, we won here last year and it didn't mean anything at the end of the season. We have to keep playing well and back this win up this year and make it mean something. Even though it is just one game, we had been waiting for this one for quite some time."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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