KC Cunningham doesn’t like errors.
The second-year Columbus Christian Academy baseball coach never has. He knows the impact they can have on a game, particularly at the high school level.
Just take the opening game of the Rams’ 2021 season, in which Columbus Christian committed eight errors in a 10-0 loss at Calhoun Academy. Two nights later, the Rams had five in a 13-9 home defeat against North River Christian Academy (Alabama).
Since then, Columbus Christian hasn’t committed more than three errors in a single game. On Monday night, in a 15-0, three-inning rout of Hebron Christian School, the Rams were completely error free. It was Columbus Christian’s fourth straight victory after those two opening losses, proof defense has been fueling the Rams’ recent run.
“That’s what I try to preach to them: no errors,” Cunningham said. “They’re listening. They’re coming in focused. They’re just doing what we ask, and that’s all I can ask from them.”
At every practice, Cunningham stresses the fundamentals of fielding: keeping low on ground balls, turning double plays and hitting the cutoff man at each base — things the Rams know but on which they could always use a refresher.
It’s understandable after the team got in just one solid preseason practice on its own field, taking advantage of good weather one fine Saturday. Cunningham assisted with the school’s girls basketball team, which made it all the way to the state championship game, and couldn’t convene his baseball players for a while. Additionally, rain turned the Rams’ home park into a mess, so Cunningham hit grounders and flies to his players on the sodden grass of the school’s football field instead.
Still, Columbus Christian was glad to be playing at all. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the Rams’ 2020 season, Cunningham’s first year at the helm, just two games in. A promising team with six seniors — Dakota Shaw, Lawson Studdard, Will Teague, Carlisle Harding, Tanner Dolan and Matthew Phillips — was suddenly at the end of a season that had barely begun.
“When COVID hit, it kind of messed up everybody’s spirits,” Cunningham said.
This year’s team features just two seniors, John James Butler and Tyler Looney, but all the Rams have enjoyed 2021 after what they missed out on the previous spring.
“We’ve been looking forward to this season because we haven’t had it last year,” Cunningham said.
Looney, Drake Shaw, Jackson Howard, Luke Phillips, Caleb Farlow and Ben Campbell make up a Columbus Christian pitching staff comprising three starters and three relievers.
At the plate, Farlow, Howard, Butler and Daniel Pate form the middle of the Rams’ order.
“They’re going to put the ball in play and let something happen for me,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham has formed a bond with his team from his own time as a student at Columbus Christian. His current players were in elementary school when he played for the Rams’ baseball team. Now they’re ready to shine on that same stage.
“The sky’s the limit for them if they just keep getting better,” Cunningham said.
He noted the Rams are willing to put in the work to do exactly that. The team couldn’t practice Tuesday because of rainstorms, but Cunningham said he was confident his players would still do their best to put in the necessary work in the batting cages at Elite Physical Therapy or elsewhere.
“When they have that initiative, it gives me hope and gives me a positive attitude about the outcome,” Cunningham said. “I know I want it for them, and if they’re going to work, I don’t see why they can’t get it. I think we’ve got a good chance at doing something — making this season a good season.”
Starkville Academy 21, Leake Academy 11, six innings
Starkville Academy 9, Leake Academy 7
STARKVILLE — The Starkville Academy baseball team managed 30 runs in Tuesday’s home district doubleheader with Leake Academy.
The Volunteers won Game 1 by a score of 9-7 before taking the nightcap 21-11 in six innings.
Colby Allen had a home run and drove in three runs in the second game. Micah McGee and Ayden Alsobrooks also had three RBIs each, and Porter Skelton pitched three no-hit innings in relief to get the win.
In Game 1, Allen, Skelton and Cooper McNeel all had multiple hits. McGee walked three times and scored three runs, and John Paul Buckner got the win on the mound.
Starkville Academy is 5-0 in district play and will play at Leake Academy on Thursday in Madden.