WEST POINT — Ben Boykin wasn”t comfortable.
Between fidgets and an inability to get his breaking ball over consistently, the Ridgeland High School starting pitcher was searching for his groove.
It”s comforting how a bunch of runs can help someone settle in.
Boykin helped himself find his rhythm with a leadoff double in what blossomed into a six-run fourth inning that Ridgeland used en route to a 9-2 series-clinching victory against West Point on Saturday at Taylor Park.
The win, coupled with a 7-6 victory on Friday night, helped Ridgeland (19-7), the Class 5A runner-up last season, advance to the next round where it will play New Hope. That series is scheduled to begin Friday in Ridgeland.
Boykin wasn”t overpowering Saturday. He walked three and struck out five, but he kept West Point (15-13) off balance in the final four innings, allowing only a single by Tommy Keys in the sixth. He also received some defensive help from right fielder Robert Richardson, who made a fine running catch on a scorched line drive by Keys in the third.
Until then, Boykin admitted he hadn”t found his rhythm.
“I was a little shaky,” said Boykin, who improved to 7-0. “I didn”t have my breaking ball at all. I was here and there. I felt good one pitch, but the next pitch was out of the zone. I don”t know. It was hard to explain.”
Boykin said it just took time to get his “feel” for his breaking ball. When he did, he was able to settle in and shut the door after the uprising in the fourth.
“We got that 9-2 lead and in my mind it is over,” Boykin said. “I just have to go out and shove and not let them back in. Whatever they have left I just have to kill it.”
Boykin”s at-bat in the fourth helped ignite the fire that ultimately helped end West Point”s season. With two strikes against him, Boykin threw his hands at a inside breaking pitch and doubled down the left-field line. Andrew Hulbert followed with a double to make it 4-2. With two outs, starting pitcher Dalentez Lane hit back-to-back batters to load the bases. West Point coach Buddy Wyers brought in Will Harrell, who allowed a two-run single to Collin Carroll, a single by Hunter Lohman, and a two-run single by Murphy Guillotte before escaping further damage.
Boykin said coach Brian Rea”s philosophy is simple in two-strike situations: Spread out and get the bat on the ball. He never imagined that hit would get things started and push his team into the next round.
“You always hope to (start the game-winning rally),” Boykin said. “We all envision ourselves doing that, so yeah, I thought I could do it.”
Rea credited Boykin for battling through some trouble in the first two innings of his first playoff start. Boykin allowed two hits in the first, including an RBI single by Freddie Reed. He then threw wildly to first base on a comebacker in the second that led to an unearned run.
After that, though, Boykin was lights out.
“He has been good for us all year,” Rea said. “You saw him, he doesn”t wow you with velocity or anything like that, but he is 7-0. He settled in about the third or fourth. His best pitch is breaking ball. He has a really sharp, 12-to-6 breaking ball. He couldn”t find a feel for that early on. His fastball was up, down, in, and, out, but I thought he dialed in in those middle innings and located really well and away from them. His breaking ball was the difference-maker.”
Rea credited West Point, which led 3-2 in the sixth inning Friday before Ridgeland scored four in the bottom half of the inning to take the lead, for playing his team tough. He praised the work of Wyers in moving that program forward and was pleased with how his team came up with more big hits in clutch situations. On Friday, first baseman Harrison Olinger had two home runs and Lohman had the game-winning hit in the bottom of the seventh with a fly ball over the head of a drawn-in outfield.
West Point had just as many clutch hits, as Edward Cox and Keys helped cut the margin to 6-4 before Reed hit a two-run home run to tie the game and set the stage for a dramatic finish.
Wyers said that loss had a lingering effect on his team. He said the Green Wave didn”t have their usual intensity or a pep in their step, and he questioned whether the players believed they could win consecutive games against Ridgeland to keep their season alive.
“I think they competed extremely hard (on Friday),” Wyers said. “I just think today, I don”t know if not being in this situation, I just felt from inning one they could not win two games. I thought that is the way they played, from an intensity standpoint and from an effort standpoint.”
Wyers said the Green Wave have made significant strides and will look forward to next season when their entire pitching staff returns. He said the loss of Keys and Cox will be difficult to replace, but he is confident the taste of playoffs and the lessons learned from competing against a team like Ridgeland will carry over to next season.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.