WEST POINT — Two weeks before the West Point High School baseball team earned its first playoff berth in a decade, coach Buddy Wyers watched his team continue to make mental errors that threatened to transform another promising season into just another losing campaign.
“It seemed like every time we played, our effort was decreasing,” Wyers said, referring to a difficult stretch in April. “That”s one thing I can”t stomach.”
So on April 9, when his team returned to the school after losing 6-2 at Caledonia, the former New Hope High School standout made a risky move, one that could have forced players to focus on their tasks in the future or to do the exact opposite.
Said Wyers, “Y”all ain”t going nowhere.”
It took about 30 minutes to organize an impromptu practice because some players were moaning and groaning about having to stay. Surprisingly, it turned into what Wyers called the best practice of the season, perhaps one of the best in his six years at West Point.
That effort helped the Green Wave close the season with surprising success, including a 10-7 win at Oxford that clinched a Class 5A North State playoff berth. West Point then dominated its first-round opponent, Jackson Callaway, 15-0 and 16-0, for the right to take on Ridgeland, which is expected to be a tougher opponent.
“I don”t know if it came down to hey, you”re either going to win or go home,” Wyers said, referring to the road win at Oxford. “They have too much ability to be sitting at home. From that game on, that”s the way it”s been. I hope it continues that way.”
No matter the outcome of this weekend”s series, Wyers will consider it a success if his guys play with the same focus. Wyers wants his players to respect the game and the work that goes into being a talented ballclub and to respect each other and to give maximum effort because that”s what you expect from the guy behind you in the outfield, or to your left in the infield.
Wyers also wants his players to respect their school and the uniform they wear by playing as hard as they can, even when their sport is overshadowed by the football team, which has more state championships in the past decade (three) than the baseball team has playoff berths (one).
It took a while for players to believe in Wyers” system, said center fielder Edward Cox, one of three seniors.
Earlier in the season, Cox said players were focused on individual goals, from being mentioned in the local newspaper to garnering interest from college scouts. That has changed.
“I think he”s got it now at the stage where we”re a family and we”re on the same level,” Cox said. “Everybody”s not on the first page anymore. I think we”re on the third chapter.”
The second round of the playoffs is a place West Point likely hasn”t reached since it won the 1989 state title.
Leading the effort is sophomore Freddie Reed, one of the team”s youngest players. Reed has recovered from a mid-season slump to hit .570 with 17 RBIs in his past four games.
Reed said Wyers has helped him with his swing, which until recently would “fly open.” He also has improved his footwork and timing at the plate and his ability to track the ball from the mound.
“I cherish that every time I go up to bat, what he has to say,” Reed said of Wyers.
Wyers said he always recognized the baseball potential at the school. Talent was never the issue. It was just a matter of whether players would practice the right way, compete the right way.
“Each year has been a little bit better, a little bit better,” he said.
It doesn”t help that West Point plays in a division that includes New Hope, Saltillo, and Oxford, but the competition has helped West Point reach the playoffs. After all, playing Jackson Callaway can”t be any tougher than facing New Hope on a Tuesday or on a Friday.
“I think everybody realized if we don”t win, we go home,” senior Tommy Keys said. “We want to keep playing ball and keep doing things until we can”t play anymore.”