May 8, 2015 12:23:23 AM
New Hope High School got its postseason wish list granted Thursday night.
"We want Oxford," New Hope sophomore designated hitter Thomas Stevens said. "We are going to do well because we have been waiting on them all year. There is no way they are going to beat us five times in a row."
New Hope got its dream matchup with the state's top-ranked team by knocking off Lewisburg 3-2 to clinch a best-of-three series in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State semifinal round Thursday night at Trojan Field.
New Hope (24-5) has now won 19 of its last 20 games and is 6-0 in postseason play. While those numbers are great, Oxford (31-0) has won every game it has played this season, including all three regular-season meetings between the region rivals.
The best-of-three North State championship series begins Tuesday at Edwin Moak Field in Oxford. A year ago, New Hope eliminated Oxford in this round on the way to its second straight state championship. New Hope will play in the North State title series for a fourth straight season.
"I told the kids to go out and have fun with this," New Hope coach Lee Boyd said. "Oxford is the No. 1 team in the state and they are in a lot of polls nationally. All of the pressure is on them because they are the favorites. A year ago, we were the favorites. So I just told the kids to approach it like we have nothing to lose. We are going to have fun with it and give it our best shot."
New Hope has shown flashes of its state championship form throughout the playoffs. Thursday night was not one of those instances.
New Hope made two critical errors, overthrew cutoff men twice and saw an atypical struggle from senior right-hander Josh Stillman.
Despite the turmoil, Stillman finished with a two-hitter and made it six straight games where the team has allowed two or fewer runs.
"He has really put us on his back throughout the season," New Hope senior infielder J.D. Earhart said. "He did what a champion does tonight. He didn't have his best stuff but he stayed out there and kept battling for his teammates."
The series was dangerously close to going back to Lewisburg for a third game before Earhart lined a two-out run-scoring single to right field, just over the outstretched glove of the Lewisburg second baseman in the sixth inning.
"Fortunately, it worked out for us," Earhart said. "We really didn't play well but we always play with confidence. The last two championships has really give this team all kinds of confidence. We had to earn the right to be respected like the last two teams but we are getting there."
Lewisburg (21-12) handed New Hope its first deficit of the postseason with two runs in the third inning.
New Hope then appeared poised to take the lead when Payton Lane hit a towering fly ball. Lewisburg left fielder Brakston Brock climbed the fence to rob a three-run home run right in front of a loud New Hope student section in left field.
"You had that feeling then, it wasn't our night," Boyd said.
Instead, New Hope then came back to tie in the fourth inning on back-to-back doubles by Stevens and Will Godfrey. Godfrey drove in the tying run after having three RBIs in Tuesday night's 6-2 win.
Things then stayed tied with Stillman working out of jam after jam until the sixth inning. In that at-bat, Stevens again doubled to the outfield gap and later scored on Earhart's hit.
With the finish line then in sight, Stillman retired the side in order to improve to 7-2.
"To have won 19 of the last 20 games is incredible," Boyd said. "We have been blessed several times over with this club. They keep battling."
New Hope will have to battle next week. Oxford won the regular-season meetings 9-0, 2-1 and 4-0 in eight innings.
"We will have to be our best," Stevens said. "We want a third ring. Beating Oxford is how we get it."
Follow Dispatch Sports Writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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