May 16, 2018 10:31:23 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Sisters and brothers have their ways of working through disagreements.
Some argue. Some don't talk to each other for hours or days until the silence becomes too much to bear.
Other siblings prefer to stay positive and to offer constant encouragement and support.
Count Drew Pounders and Xavier Harrison as part of the latter group.
As senior members of the New Hope High School baseball team, Pounders and Harrison have helped set the tone for a squad that has overcome inconsistency to try to add another chapter to a program that already has a rich tradition.
"I am just overwhelmed with happiness because it has always been a dream," Pounders said when asked what he thought it would be like to play for a state title. "We have been working for it for four years now with the high school team. Going out with a bang would be awesome."
Technically, Pounders, Harrison, Cade Odom, Matt Mordecai, Nick Sims, Bryce Braddock, and Clay Williamson aren't "brothers." But you tend to develop a stronger bond when you spend as much time together as those seven have as members of the New Hope High baseball team. The family ties grow even stronger when you factor in the juniors, sophomores, and freshmen who have played a role in another special season for the Trojans.
New Hope (29-5) will begin its quest for its eighth state title at 4 p.m. Wednesday when it takes on Vancleave (27-7) in Game 1 of the best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A State title series at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
Sophomore Ryan Burt (11-1, 2.10 earned run average) is scheduled to start for New Hope, which has defeated Senatobia, Mooreville, Ripley, and Kosciusko to earn a date on the state's biggest stage for the sport.
Vancleave enters the game riding a 15-game winning streak. It defeated Mendenhall, Poplarville, West Lauderdale, and East Central by a combined score of 59-18 in eight games to earn a shot to play for its first state title. New Hope High coach Lee Boyd knows facing a team that has 11 seniors listed on its roster, according to MaxPreps.com, will be a test, but he feels his squad has overcome ups and downs all season and is prepared.
"It has been tough offensively because we haven't swung it as well in the playoffs as we did in the regular season, but I tried to remind them, too, we are seeing better arms," Boyd said. "I thought last series against Kosciusko we pitched it pretty well and we actually hit the ball better. We scored nine runs in both games. I am hoping both of those aspects are coming together at the right time."
Boyd said not going to the state title series for a few years reminds you of how tough it is to be one of the last two teams standing in your classification. He said the Trojans have come up with clutch hits at the right time and have had their share of good fortune to extend their season. Still, he feels the team chemistry and the bond the players have built through the year has provided an edge.
"It is neat to see your upperclassmen kind of jell with some of your younger guys," Boyd said. "Ryan Burt is an example. He has gotten pretty close with the older guys. I can't really explain the bond that they have. I guess just being together for so much (has helped make it stronger). If you care about the guy standing next to you, you tend to play a little harder for him."
Pounders and Harrison said they knew the Trojans were going to have to work hard to get back to the Class 4A State title series after the program dropped from Class 5A following reclassification. They said the players bought into the message Boyd and his coaches delivered all season and believed in it. Pounders said being close as a group has helped strengthen those bonds and build confidence.
"At first, we didn't expect to be here, but we're just glad to be here now," Pounders said. "In the offseason, we weren't hitting the ball like we wanted to. Our defense was kind of iffy. We just gathered it along the year and kept working hard."
Pounders said the Trojans' experience helped the team weather the setbacks and mistakes. Harrison said all of the players have embraced Boyd's message to put things behind them and not let one mistake become two or three or four. They agreed the Trojans have effectively developed the mind-set of a closer in which they have learned to forget things and to get back up and to try again and to keep fighting.
Pounders and Harrison said the bench players have a key role in motivating and supporting the starters. Several times this season, Dalton Moody has donned catcher's gear and ran into a tackling dummy to lighten the mood in the dugout. They also said the bench players will stack bats together like they are going to set them on fire to spark rallies. Both techniques have helped bring the team closer together in search of its back-to-back state titles in 2013 and 2014.
"It has been really close (in past years)," Harrison said. "We have a lot of players you can put anywhere because everybody is good."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.