Champions need killer instincts.
It remains to be seen whether the New Hope High School baseball team will navigate through a difficult district and regional schedule to play for a Class 5A state title.
But the Trojans showed Friday they are developing a knack for making opponents pay for their mistakes.
Gabe Franks had three hits, and Jake Upton had two more and earned the victory in relief to lead New Hope to an 11-4 victory against West Point in a Clss 5A Division 2, District 1 game at Trojan Field.
New Hope (12-4, 3-1 district) rallied from a 3-0 deficit thanks to two runs each in the third and fourth innings. It used a six-run sixth to break open a close game and send the Green Wave to 0-4 in the district.
Brent Younger, Jake Smith, Frank Richardson Jr., and Seth Stillman had RBIs for New Hope.
“Our last five or six ballgames we really have been capitalizing on the other team”s mistakes,” New Hope coach Lee Boyd said. “It seems like whenever someone makes an error somebody comes up with a big hit. We have been getting some bunt hits, too. It is amazing how a bunt hit helps their confidence. You saw that a little bit tonight, trying to put some pressure on some people. The last five or six games we have played pretty well.”
New Hope will need to maintain that level this week when it plays host to district contender Saltillo at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The game is one of two against Saltillo slated for this week. The games will go a long way to deciding which two teams will advance out of the district to play in the North Half State tournament.
To realize that goal, New Hope likely will follow the format it used Friday night. Upton came on in relief of starter Blake Roberts, who was making his first start of the season, and allowed only two hits in 4 2/3 innings. The knuckleballing senior, who opened the game at catcher, walked one and struck out six.
“What has been big with Jake is Dillon Hawkins has stepped up behind the plate unbelievably the past two or three weeks,” Boyd said. “Dillon has done an outstanding job, and that gives me more confidence to put Jake in the ballgame.
“Jake has a knuckleball, and a lot of teams don”t see that, so it is just something different. He has pitched outstanding this year.”
Upton showed his effectiveness as he came in with one out in the third with runners at second and third. He struck out the final two batters to escape trouble.
“He came in in a big jam, and that was a key inning,” Boyd said. “A big hit right there and we”re down five or six to nothing. That is tough to climb out of, especially against a team that you know is going to score more runs.”
After committing three errors in the first three innings, New Hope settled down and played errorless ball in the final four innings. It turned a double play in the sixth and used a fine charging, one-handed play by Younger at third base in the seventh to seal the victory.
Offensively, New Hope rebounded from leaving the bases loaded in the first two innings. In the third, Upton and Stillman had RBI singles to cut West Point”s lead to 3-2. Stillman, a left-handed batter, reached out and grounded a single between second and third base to protect Richardson Jr., who was trying to steal third, and to allow him to score. A fine backhanded by second baseman Dalton Davis ended the threat.
In the fourth, Davis Lee walked and scored following a throwing error on Smith”s bunt. The bunt went up the first-base line, but Freddie Reed”s throw went past Tommy Keys at first base and down the right-field line. Franks scored on a wild pitch to give New Hope a 4-3 lead.
Brandon Edwards tripled and scored on a one-out groundout by Keys to tie it at 4 in the fifth. New Hope answered in the bottom half of the inning as Philip Tice (one hit, three walks, two intentional) reached on an error, went to third on a double by Younger, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Lee.
The Trojans broke the game open in the sixth, taking advantage of two errors, two wild pitches, and a late coverage of first base on a bunt that went for another hit to put the game away.
“We e could have capitalized a little better in the first couple of innings, but I thought the rest of the game we battled hard,” Boyd said.
Edwards had a double and a triple, Ed Cox had a double, and Keys had a double and two RBIs for West Point.
West Point coach Buddy Wyers said a combination of factors continue to plague his team. He said his team hasn”t had a lot of time to work on a game field, but he didn”t attribute the mistakes Friday night to those errors. He said the Green Wave were fortunate to escape trouble early in the game after starting pitcher Will Harrell walked seven in the first three-plus innings before he left the game.
“With the exception of walks and falling behind in the count, I thought our pitchers did OK,” Wyers said. “I even thought we hit the ball fairly well. When it came down to it, in that last inning they did some stuff to make us make the plays and we didn”t make the plays.”
Wyers didn”t use a bang-bang call at first base that went against his team early in the game as an excuse. He said the Green Wave”s failure to execute later in the game made that call not matter. He said his team needs to focus more in practice and in games to develop the confidence it needs.
“I know we”re a good baseball team. They don”t know they”re a good baseball team. That makes a big, big difference,” Wyers said. “Those little things we can work on every day, but if they don”t want to correct it, it is not going to get corrected. That is something you have to talk to them and try to get them to understand.
“I tell them all of the time, that one pitch you lose concentration or you”re not involved in mentally could cost you the ballgame. It doesn”t matter if it is the first pitch in the ballgame or the last pitch of the game, that one pitch could cost you the ballgame. They have to be mentally involved every pitch, and we”re not that way. … If they ever understand that and want to correct some of this other stuff, I think we will get over the hump, I hope.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.