BY DAVID MILLER
Neshoba Central turned a narrow second-inning lead into lights-out baseball Monday at Sammy Fletcher Field, topping Center Hill 9-4 to clinch the Dizzy Dean World Series championship.
The Rockets, who topped Ridgeland and rival New Hope a day earlier, led 5-1 following a Terrance Steele two-RBI single and RBI hits from Robert Greer and Dustin Floyd.
Center Hill closed the gap to one after RBI hits from Jacob Marsh and Zach Russell, but the Rockets shut down the Mustangs” offense for the final five innings. Center Hill was retired in order in four of the final five innings, including an emphatic final frame from Tournament MVP Greer, who struck out two batters to wrap up the win.
“This feels good because we”ve never won a championship; we get to go home with a trophy,” said Greer, who finished 2-for-2 with a pair of RBIs. “I threw a no-hitter against Gulfport, but it feels pretty good to be MVP of a whole tournament. Especially with all the players here.”
Greer said the key to locking down Center Hill was keeping the pressure on the Mustangs . Laying down bunts, stealing bases and moving runners make up the Rockets” method operation, and when the runs continued for Neshoba it forced the Mustangs to play from behind.
“We play a pressure type of offense and it got things going our way today,” Neshoba head coach Brian Jones said. “Honestly, I think we kind of got away from that yesterday at New Hope. Yesterday was probably the worst day we had here, but today we got back to having the atmosphere we usually have and playing our style of baseball.”
Rockets starting pitcher Austin Smith earned the win with four innings of work on short rest. Smith gave up four runs on seven hits and was relieved by Greer, who held the Mustangs hitless.
Five extra-base hits and five steals ensured the Rockets pitchers would have solid run support working on limited rest.
“The pitching was pretty thin, and we knew that going into today,” Jones said. “I told them they”re going to have to swing the bats to win. Luckily, we”ve done that all weekend. With the nine runs today, I think that”s 76 or 77 runs we”ve scored up here in seven games.
“That”s pretty impressive.”
Neshoba and Center Hill each led the tournament field with four All-Tournament selections.
The Mustangs made it to the final by a two-run combined advantage in their wins over host side Columbus and West Point.
Center Hill pitcher Kevin Young was tagged early and often, giving up eight runs on nine hits in 3 1/3 innings of work.
Russell and Cody Gangrish each had multi-hit games for the Mustangs but found opportunities scarce when they had to chase a deficit.
Jones, who believes his program is closer than ever to challenging for district supremacy and state honors, doesn”t want his players to downplay the summer title.
“Technically it doesn”t mean anything as far as the season, but this is the last thing these kids remember going into fall workouts,” Jones said. “Sometimes they”ll forget what they”re working for, and we”ve got goals of where we want to be. This is the first step. It doesn”t exactly correlate to winning a state championship, but Ridgeland came up here last year and they won it. They”re in our division and they played for it this year. That gives us something to look forward to.”
This year”s tournament field fell to 12 teams, and the total has decreased in each of the last two years. The Dizzy Dean Tournament”s future, especially in the Golden Triangle, remains in question. Obviously, Jones wants the tournament to continue.
“I hope so, because it”s kind of our measuring stick at the end of summer,” he said. “We always talk about how it”s the last thing we”re going to do. There”s a big tournament going on with 20 teams and then part of the week we had the state games. I wish that they would kind of look at things, and one group or the other make an adjustment. With the dead-week period, I know that”s why we bumped it up.
For us, though, it”s something we look forward to, whether we win or not.
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