April 11, 2018 9:48:02 AM
New Hope High School baseball coach Lee Boyd loves sending in the outfield signs at Trojan Field for a new paint job.
Boyd earned the right to send in another sign Tuesday night as New Hope beat Kosciusko 6-4 to clinch the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A, Region 4 championship.
"It feels good to add another number in the outfield," Boyd said. "It had been since 2014 (the last region championship). That's a mighty long time for this program, so it's good to see the kids accept the challenge and get the job done for every region game this year."
New Hope (18-4, 7-0 region) can finish an undefeated run through region play by winning Friday at Kosciusko. The Trojans secured the top spot and home-field advantage for the playoffs by beating the second-place Whippets.
For the tradition-rich Trojans, championships are the norm.
"You have to embrace the tradition or it will get to you," New Hope senior shortstop Nick Sims said. "When you get between the lines, it is all representing the great New Hope teams of the past. We want to play for championships. Our goal is to be there at the end, fighting for first in region, in the state, whatever championship is up for grabs at that time."
This season has been a transitional one for New Hope. The Trojans lost several key participants from last season's North State Class 5A runner-up squad. New Hope also had to learn a new set of opponents when it moved to Class 4A in the latest round of reclassification.
Boyd said his biggest concern entering the season is who would join junior Payton Springfield as the squad's other main pitcher.
Sophomore Ryan Burt accepted that challenge.
"Ryan has been totally dominant," Boyd said. "That's seven wins already and he is just a sophomore. We just started the year with several candidates, and it was just a matter of figuring out who was ready to step up. He took that opportunity and ran with it."
Burt has now won all seven of his starts and has thrown three-straight complete games. He allowed four hits and struck out nine Tuesday.
"I have felt great the last month," Burt said. "When you are a sophomore, you don't know what to expect pitching some of the bigger games for your team. With our offense, we are going to score some runs, so that makes the pitcher's job a little easier."
Burt allowed a run on two hits in the second inning. After hitting a batter with one out in the third, he retired the next nine in a row. A one-out walk in the sixth broke up that streak, but he recorded inning-ending double play.
"When Ryan is throwing like that, we aren't going to lose many times," New Hope senior second baseman Drew Pounders said. "He had control of the game from the first inning. Two strikeouts to start the game and you knew he was going to be in the charge."
After two easy outs to start the seventh, Kosciusko (10-9, 6-3) extended the game with a hit and capitalized on an error. Clark Dean crushed a three-run home run to create an air of doubt in the stadium.
A ground-ball out three pitches later ended the game.
"To come back and get that last out as a sophomore says a lot," Boyd said. "As coaches, we didn't have any doubt he was going to finish things. He just has that confidence. As coaches, we just have that confidence, too."
New Hope took the lead with two runs in the fourth. It added four runs in the fifth.
Burt also played a big role at the plate with two doubles. The second double hit off the base of the outfield wall and tied the game 1-1. He added a sacrifice fly for his team's final run.
"Whatever it takes to help the team win," Burt said. "Coach Boyd has really put a lot on me this year, and I consider that a challenge. At the plate, this is the best I have seen the ball in a while. Again, whatever it takes."
After a one-out single by Sims in the fifth, junior Tyler Murphy crushed an RBI double to the gap. A sacrifice fly by Pounders and double by Bryce Braddock followed.
"Our offense has been so dominant all year," Sims said. "We don't get discouraged when we don't score for a couple of innings because we know eventually we are going to break out. This team can hit and it can score a lot of runs. Getting great pitching just makes us even stronger."
Boyd knows the look of a state championship team. He likes how this team looks.
"The pitching has been dominant and the defense has been good enough to play for a championship," Boyd said. "Offensively, we have enough guys up and down the lineup swinging it well enough to give us a chance. We play smart, aggressive baseball. There were a lot of unknowns when the season started. However, we have 18 wins now, home-field advantage in the playoffs, and this team has formed a great identity. It's the type of team we like to take the playoffs."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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