PEARL — For the first time in nearly two months, the New Hope High School baseball team will play a game coming off a loss.
Junior designated hitter Payton Lane said don’t look for anything to change for the Trojans.
“We will play with same amount of confidence we always play with,” Lane said. “We know what we have to do. We still have to come out and win two games. We will come out excited, ready to go, and ready to get that job done.”
New Hope will be in battle-back mode after losing to West Jones 5-4 in Game 1 of the best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state championship series at Trustmark Park.
West Jones can win its first baseball state title at 4 p.m. today. New Hope will try extend it state championship defense to a third game, which would be played Saturday at a time to be determined.
New Hope (30-4) appeared destined for its 19th-straight win after it scored four runs in the top of the sixth inning to break a scoreless tie. Things looked even brighter considering senior Taylor Stafford had only allowed one hit through five innings on the mound.
Things then turned on a dime in the home half of the sixth. After Oak Grove and DeSoto Central combined for 12 runs in the sixth inning of the Class 6A game earlier in the day, West Jones (25-10) made it nine runs for the Class 5A teams by scoring five runs to take the lead.
“I lost a little bit of velocity and they really started hitting me hard,” Stafford said. “It was disappointing because we thought we had the game right where we wanted it, too. We still have to win two games (to win the championship). We will really be eager to play again.”
Stafford struck out 10 and allowed only three baserunners through five innings. The Mustangs didn’t advance a runner into scoring position in the first five at-bats.
New Hope finally broke through against senior starter Timothy Jordan in the sixth. Will Golsan’s leadoff single was New Hope’s fourth hit of the game. A hit by Stafford and walk to Rooke Coleman loaded the bases. Wells Davis followed with a single for a 1-0 lead. Jordan walked Lane to bring home another run. Jake Hollis followed with a sacrifice fly for the inning’s second out and a 3-0 lead. J.C. Redden followed with a single to make it 4-0.
New Hope threatened in the second but back-to-back one-out hits by Davis and Lane went for naught.
“We hit some balls and they hit some balls really hard,” New Hope coach Lee Boyd said. “You really can’t fault the kids or their effort. (West Jones) had some hard-hit balls that found some holes. We also had a couple of plays that we didn’t make. In a state championship game, you can leave yourself exposed if you don’t make a couple of plays.”
West Jones reversed fortunes with six-straight hits in the sixth — four off Stafford and two off Josh Stillman.
Stafford’s third walk allowed leadoff man Blake Show to start the sixth. After a fly out, Wes McDonnieal doubled to left field. Timothy Jordan, Brock Morris, and Aaron White followed with consecutive hard hits to the outfield. Stillman then was touched for a nubber by Colton Johnson and a bloop, two-run single down the right-field line by Austin Waldrup.
“It just seemed like they got all the breaks there in that one inning,” Lane said. “I don’t think we have given up six hits in an inning all year, much less in a row. It is disappointing because you like how the game is going. Then in a couple of minutes, you fall behind.
“We faced some adversity (during last year’s state championship run). We will approach the next game in this series the same way. Whether it is J.C. (Redden) or Josh (Stillman) on the mound, we will come out ready to play and ready to extend the series.”
Stillman had a one-out hit off Johnson in the seventh. However, two outs followed and New Hope was looking at the prospects of having to win a second-straight state championship in a three games. Last year, New Hope beat Pascagoula 11-9 in Game 1, lost Game 2 3-2 and rallied to win Game 3 3-2.
“We just wanted a chance,” said West Jones coach Joey Ward, whose team played its 15th game decided by two runs or less. “All the credit really goes to the kids for continuing to believe. When you are playing the defending champions, you just want to stay even. If we kept it to a one- or two-run game, we felt like we had a chance.
“When New Hope builds the four-run lead you had doubts. However, we have been good at comebacks all year. The kids believed. They felt like they belonged here and I thought that was really huge when things didn’t look good.”
Stillman and Davis each had two of New Hope’s eight hits.
White was the lone multiple hitter for West Jones, which had seven hits.
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.