New Hope High School Lee Boyd would have loved to have said something more profound Saturday night following a season-ending 11-5 loss to Oxford in Game 2 of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 5A North State title series at Trojan Field.
Unfortunately, baseball has a way of disappointing, especially on a night when a team has so many chances to make something special happen. New Hope (21-14) missed an opportunity to keep its season alive even though it loaded the bases four times in the first five innings. Five errors also cost the Trojans a chance to extend the careers of their seven seniors, which is why Boyd was able to sum up the effort with his opening comment.
“It was just not our night,” Boyd said. “I think the nerves early got to us. I just feel like some things, not even routine plays, but even bunt coverages and stuff like that got to us. As big as the game was, we just kind of lost our mind early.”
New Hope rebounded from a three-error first inning that saw Oxford score two runs to score two runs in the bottom half. The Trojans could have caused more damage following hits by Thomas Stevens, Tyler Murphy, Drew Pounders, and Nick Sims to open the frame, but starting pitcher Tyler Smith induced back-to-back comebackers to the mound, which he turned into outs. Smith hit Parker Lane but he recorded the third out to work out of the jam.
Oxford didn’t give New Hope any time to regroup. The Chargers, who won Game 1 5-4 on a walk-off his Thursday in Oxford, added one run in the second, three in the third, and a run in the fourth. The big blow was a two-run home run by Duncan Graeber in the fifth that was part of a three-run outburst. The runs helped erase the momentum New Hope seized in the bottom of the fourth by scoring three times to cut the deficit to 7-5.
New Hope’s five runs could have been even bigger, too, because it loaded the bases in the third, fourth, and fifth innings. The fifth ended with Pounders flying out to left fielder C.J. Terrell, who threw home to erase Koby Harcrow for a double play.
Boyd lamented the missed scoring opportunities on a night he said starting pitcher Peyton Buckner, who had 10 wins entering the game, also didn’t have his best outing. Boyd said Buckner did “an unbelievable job” for New Hope all season, but he lasted only 2 2/3 innings on a night Boyd said New Hope “just didn’t play well.”
“I always tell our guys and our assistant coaches if we get beat I hope we play really well,” Boyd said. “That just didn’t happen. I hate it for our seniors.”
Boyd credited the group of Stevens, Buckner, Harcrow, Lane, Carson Forrester, TJ Stephens, and Trey Klosterman for helping get New Hope back on track when it was 9-10. He said it is going to be difficult for the players to take pride in they had a successful season after losing to their arch rival and to see the Chargers dog pile on their field, but he said the seniors and all of the Trojans should know they fought to the end against a very good team.
“We have been to five North State title series in the last six years, and they have been a part of all of that,” Boyd said. “That is a really, really, really good baseball team. They are going for a three-peat, and, in my opinion, they are probably the most talented team in the state. It stinks that it is them, but they are really good.
“I am proud of our guys Thursday night for fighting back. We were down 4-0 and we easily could have hung it up, but we had a chance right there at the end of the game. We had our opportunities but couldn’t get it done.”
With five starters slated to return, including sophomores Murphy and Rye McGlothin, Boyd likes the future of his program. He isn’t sure what to expect next season when New Hope moves from Class 5A to Class 4A, but he feels the Trojans should be able to put themselves right back into contention with the state’s top teams.
“We have got some younger guys who have played, but we’re going to lose a lot as well, so we have a lot of work to do in the offseason to figure out who we’re going to put where,” Boyd said. “I hope the experience of playing in a big series like this will help us going down to 4A next year. In my opinion, put 4A and 5A in a hat and they are about the same. I think it is going to be a tough challenge as well.”
Two-time reigning Class 5A champion Oxford (31-5) will play Pearl River Central, which beat Hattiesburg in the South State title series, at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Game 1 of the best-of-three state title series at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
“We came in and we pitched in when we had to and we got out of some big jams,” Oxford coach Chris Baughman said. “They had every opportunity in the world, and it seemed like we kept wiggling out of trouble. We made big pitches when we needed to and we made big plays when we needed to. Then, obviously, what we have done is swung the bats well, and we did.”
Every game of all six of the state title series will be livestreamed on the MHSAA Network’s Mississippi channel at www.misshsaa.tv. Tickets are $13 and good for all games that day.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.