HAMILTON — The “freebies” the Hamilton High School baseball team allowed Friday night turned out to be even more costly than anyone would have imagined.
Shonquayle Jenkins pitched six strong innings Saturday to lead the Water Valley High School baseball team to a 2-0 victory against Hamilton in game two of its Mississippi High School Activities Association best-of-three Class 2A third-round series.
The victory sends Water Valley (20-9) into the next round where it will face the winner of the Belmont-Ackerman series. Game two of that series was rained out Monday.
Hamilton ends its season at 21-7.
“We just didn”t hit the ball very well,” said Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest, whose team outhit Water Valley five to four Saturday. “That has been our trouble all year. It just finally caught up to us.”
Jenkins (6-2) went to 3-0 on Austin Earnest to start the top of the seventh inning before Water Valley coach Doug Robbins removed him in favor of Josh Johnson.
Johnson (five saves) completed the walk to Earnest but didn”t allow him to reach scoring position to finish off a series sweep many in the state will consider surprising.
“A lot of people already think Hamilton did win the series and they didn”t bother to look,” Robbins said. “Nobody really gave us a chance to win the series but our guys. Hamilton has been to the state championship the past two years and has not lost anybody and has added two great players.”
Earnest and the Lions had plenty of respect for the Blue Devils before the series started. He credited Water Valley for improving throughout the season and earning two big victories.
“They played good,” Earnest said. “They do a good job of putting the ball in play and not striking out too much. Dylan (Earnest) and Chase (Reeves) have struck out a lot of batters this year, but their strikeout totals weren”t there in this series. They are a better hitting team that they were earlier in the year.”
Reeves pitched all six innings Saturday, allowing four hits (two doubles). He struck out three and walked four.
Water Valley scored the only run it needed in the first. Johnson doubled, moved to third base on a sacrifice bunt, and scored on a single by Drew Pratt.
The Blue Devils added an insurance run in the third. Jenkins walked to start the inning, went to third after Hamilton committed an error on J.D. Fondon”s bunt single, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Pratt.
Robbins said the victories against Hamilton aren”t the two best back-to-back games his team has played this season. He said Friday that his team has struggled to find consistency and that his players might have finally realized the urgency of the playoffs.
“When you get in a three-game series you either win or go home,” Robbins said. “I think the guys aren”t ready for it to be over with. They have taken that to heart and played well and played hard.”
Isaac Winders had two hits for the Lions. Cody Crouch, Devin Hopper, and Cole Johnson had singles.
Unfortunately, coach Earnest said the Lions struck out seven times, which he said was too much, and had runners in scoring position in every inning except the fifth and seventh.
Hamilton loses Winders and Crouch to graduation. Coach Earnest said both players will be difficult to replace and that he hopes the early playoff exit will serve as motivation for next season”s team.
“We had a good year,” Earnest said. “We would have liked to have had a better one, but that is the nature of the game. It has to end sometime. It just ended a little earlier than we wanted.”
The Lions committed five errors Friday night that led to five unearned runs in a 6-5 loss at home.
Hamilton”s mistakes came back to haunt it when Water Valley rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh to force the game into extra innings.
In the ninth, a suicide squeeze bunt by Walt McCullough scored Johnson, who was hit by a pitch from reliever Austin Earnest to start it off.
Dylan Earnest started and threw the first eight innings for the Lions. He allowed eight hits, zero earned runs, walked one, and struck out eight.
Jenkins helped do in the Lions in game one, too.
In the bottom of the ninth, Johnson hit Hopper with a pitch to start the inning. With one out, Crouch grounded a ball between first and second base. Jenkins ranged deep into the hole, slid on the outfield grass, and got to his feet in time to throw to first for the out.
Robbins said his team had a “refuse to lose” attitude that put it over the top.
“It has been there off and on and I have screamed and pulled my hair out about consistency,” Robbins said. “I don”t know that there wasn”t a guy on the field who didn”t make a great play or do something extremely well for us. That”s what it takes to beat that team. That is a good baseball team. Coach Earnest does a good job with them.”
A baserunning mistake on a ball in the dirt erased Hamilton”s potential tying run at third base to end the game.
Hopper had two hits and an RBI and was the only Hamilton player with multiple hits. The Lions only had seven hits.
“We made too many mistakes early,” coach Earnest said. “They did a good job scoring when they had to. You can”t give a good team freebies. That”s why we did and they took advantage.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.