COLLINSVILLE — The New Hope High School baseball team always seemed to have the answer.
Whether it was timely hitting, clutch pitching, or sparkling defense, the Trojans put everything together in the past month to sweep their first three playoff series.
But one solution eluded them all season: How to solve Dustin McWilliams.
The West Lauderdale left-hander pitched a complete game Thursday to beat New Hope in game one of the Class 4A North Half state title series.
Two days later, McWilliams again proved a little too tough to handle.
McWilliams came on in relief to pitch out of trouble in the sixth inning and then retired the side in order in the seventh Saturday night to lead West Lauderdale to a 3-2 victory in game three of the best-of-three series at Jerry Boatner Field.
“We just didn”t get the hits,” New Hope coach Stacy Hester said. “The kids battled hard. McWilliams did a great job. He has three wins and save against us this year. He has pretty much owned us.”
West Lauderdale (28-7) advances to face South Half state champion East Central on Friday at Trustmark Park in Pearl for the Class 4A state title.
New Hope ends its season at 25-11.
The Trojans did nearly everything they could in their attempt to win their first state title since 2003.
Blake Roberts delivered a solid outing, Phillip Tice continued his hot hitting, and New Hope capitalized on six errors Friday in an 8-4 victory that forced the series back to Collinsville.
But the hitting magic the Trojans used to carry them in the playoffs wasn”t there Saturday.
Kameron Heiser had a lot to do with that. The senior right-hander, who is the Knights” No. 3 pitcher, didn”t look like he hadn”t pitched in nearly a month. He allowed just three hits, one unearned run, walked two, and struck out one in five-plus innings.
“I don”t think it is what he did it is what we didn”t do,” Hester said. “The first inning set the tone. We had first and second, momentum, and this game is played on momentum, and we hit into a double play and I think the kids just said, ”Uh oh.” When we hit early or score early we have a chance.”
In the first, Heiser induced Hilton Gibson to hit into the first of the Trojans” three double plays. Still, Josh Ferguson advanced to third base. Tice walked and Heiser retired Davis Lee on a comebacker to the mound.
In the second, T.J. Upton reached on a single and went to second base when the shortstop overthrew first base. He moved to third on a groundout by Jake Upton, but Heiser struck out Brent Younger and forced Jake Smith to fly out to right field.
New Hope didn”t get another runner in scoring position until the sixth.
“We just didn”t compete in the first couple of innings,” Jake Upton said. “We all gave it our best, but it didn”t happen like we wanted it to happen.
“I think we hit the ball pretty hard against him but we hit it straight to someone every time. We just couldn”t find a hole.”
West Lauderdale coach Jerry Boatner lifted Heiser in the top of the sixth after he issued a leadoff walk to Will McReynolds.
McWilliams came in from right field to walk Gibson. An infield error on what could have been another double play allowed McReynolds to score and Gibson to go to third.
After a strikeout, T.J. Upton blooped a single to right field to make it 3-2. Tice, who had reached on the error, went to third, but McWilliams struck out Jake Upton and Younger.
“We made an error at second base but we bounced back and I got out of the inning,” McWilliams said. “I felt fine. There was a hole on the mound and I kept falling in it that first batter. Once I found my placement I started to throw strikes.”
McWilliams recorded two more strikeouts in the seventh to record his first save to send the Knights to Pearl.
“I knew if we got out of the top of the sixth with them just getting those two runs we would be all right because once Dustin finds it he is tough,” West Lauderdale catcher Darren Farmer said.
Farmer gave the Knights nearly all the offense they needed in the bottom of the first when he lined a two-run home run to the left of the 330-foot marker in right-center field to make it 2-0.
The home run was Farmer”s 18th of the season, and first against a knuckleball pitcher.
“It felt great,” Farmer said. “He left it up around my belt and it didn”t break quick enough and I gave it a ride.”
Said Boatner, “I have been coaching for 41 years and Darren Farmer has had the greatest year offensively of anyone I have coached. He is hitting .500, he doesn”t strike out much, he is fast, and he is the best offensive player we have had this year, and we have had some good ones.”
Jake Upton didn”t allow much else. He surrendered an RBI single to Wes Stokes in the fourth that made it 3-0, but he pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam to keep the Trojans in the game.
“The one Farmer was a good pitch. He just hit it good,” Jake Upton said. “I left it up higher than I wanted. In any other ballpark it probably would have stayed in the park, but that”s what happens.”
The one-run inning nearly cost West Lauderdale. Fortunately, McWilliams had enough left to shut the Trojans down again.
n New Hope 8, West Lauderdale 4: Tice”s two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning Friday set the tone for the Trojans.
McReynolds, Younger, and Smith added RBIs as the Trojans had only seven hits but made the most of six errors.
Roberts made the runs stand, as he pitched six solid innings. He allowed four hits and three runs and walked two and struck out three.
“I felt a lot better than I have been the past few games,” Roberts said. “My team was behind me all the way. I knew if they got a good hit they were behind me.”
Roberts allowed all three runs in the sixth, but he escaped further damage when he got Stokes to line out to T.J. Upton at third. Upton then threw to Gibson at first for an inning-ending double play.
“We have confidence in our kids and they have confidence in themselves,” Hester said. “I think our kids came out focused. The key to us was Blake Roberts. We knew we would score some runs. We just hoped to get to a third game.”
Tice homered against Stokes, a hard-throwing right-hander. There was no doubt his shot was gone, as it cleared the scoreboard in left-center field.
“I knew he was throwing hard,” Tice said. “He threw ball one and I expected him to throw a fastball because he didn”t get ahead and I just turned on it.”
Boatner said West Lauderdale made uncharacteristic mistakes in the field in one of its poorest outings of the season.
“We stunk it up today,” Boatner said. “That is about as bad as we can play, and you have to give credit to them. They played great. They didn”t make any errors and their pitcher hardly walked anybody and kept the ball in the park.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.