STARKVILLE — The Starkville Academy baseball team got exactly what it wanted.
After the Volunteers, trailing by a run, loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the seventh inning Thursday against Winston Academy, junior John Paul Buckner ripped a line drive to the left side.
But it went straight into the glove of Winston shortstop Brylee Wall. Wall fired to third base to double off pinch runner Randall Futral, and two batters later, the Patriots finished off a 4-3 win over the Volunteers (16-5).
“That’s what we’ve asked them to do all year — just find the barrel,” Starkville Academy coach Thomas Berkery said. “All you can do is hit it — can’t place it, can’t steer it. You’ve just got to hope that where you hit it, it finds a hole.”
There was no such luck for the Vols on Thursday as they dropped their first district game of the season, although Berkery said that was bound to occur at some point.
“We weren’t going to go undefeated in the district,” Berkery said. “That will probably never happen. Even the greatest teams in our district probably have never done it like that.”
The Vols still feel like they’re one of those teams after a strong start to the season. They battled with a strong Winston team through six innings until Patriots junior Aiden Fancher drove a single into left center field for the go-ahead run.
“They got the runners on base, they got the hits and manufactured, and I just was blessed to get him in,” Fancher, a Mississippi State commit, said.
He finished Winston’s win by earning the save on the mound with some help from Wall and the Patriots’ fielders. After the shortstop snared Buckner’s line drive, he flipped to second base for a game-ending forceout to seal the victory.
“Defense always comes through,” Fancher said. “The team’s always on your back.”
Winston jumped out to a 3-0 lead on a second-inning single by Trey Williamson and a two-run base hit by Jett Joiner in the fourth.
But the Vols roared back in the fifth, scoring three runs to tie the game thanks to a trio of juniors. Against Wall, who pitched the first six innings for Winston, Harris McReynolds slapped a single up the middle, Ayden Alsobrooks reached on an error, and Porter Skelton tied the game with a single to center. Senior Brody Pierce was thrown out at the plate trying to score the go-ahead run for Starkville Academy, the victim of a send Berkery said he regretted.
Still, the Vols had made it a game by finally scaling Wall.
“We knew it was coming,” Berkery said. “He’s not a high strikeout guy, so we knew that eventually we could probably break through.”
Starkville Academy starter Drew Williams proved the opposite, fanning 10 Patriots through six innings of work. Berkery said the sophomore is a key piece of the Vols’ three-man rotation and typically puts up high strikeout numbers.
“He’s a guy who gets up toward double digits every time out,” Berkery said.
But Winston rallied against Skelton and junior Colby Allen in the seventh. Max Fulcher led off with a single and Williamson walked with one out before Fancher dumped the go-ahead hit into left-center. Fancher closed out the contest with help from Wall as the Patriots handed the Vols their first district loss.
“We battled the whole game,” Fancher said. “The team played a heck of the game, and we stayed in it the whole time and battled through it. It was awesome.”
Starkville Academy will play a series with rival Heritage Academy next week. The two schools will play a doubleheader beginning at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
New Hope 13, West Point 1, four innings
NEW HOPE — Lexi McBrayer drove in four runs as the New Hope softball team beat West Point 13-1 in four innings Thursday in New Hope.
Zoe Goodman drove in two runs for the Trojans, who scored eight in the first inning. She had two hits, and McBrayer had three to lead the team.
Adi Dueitt pitched all four innings for New Hope, striking out three.
Ja’leah Orr drove in West Point’s only run in the fourth inning.
Starkville 19, Columbus 1
Itawamba Agricultural 13, Caledonia 6
Heritage Academy 3, Leake Academy 1
Leake Academy 4, Heritage Academy 3
MADDEN — Heritage Academy split a doubleheader with Leake Academy on the road Thursday.
Rhett Ketchum had a home run and picked up the win on the mound in the Patriots’ 3-1 Game 2 win. Caleb Hall struck out 11 in four innings of relief.
In Game 1, the Rebels prevailed on a walk-off single. Hall and Aaron Downs led Heritage Academy with two hits apiece, and Cole Ketchum struck out 10.
The Pats will host Leake Academy at 4 p.m. Friday.
Oak Hill Academy 11, Indianola Academy 6
INDIANOLA — Colin Boyd went 3 for 5 with a double and a triple as Oak Hill Academy beat Indianola Academy 11-6 in Thursday’s road game.
The Raiders won their sixth straight contest with a five-run fifth inning that put them ahead 10-6. Ty Harden added a home run to lead off the sixth.
Carson Taylor was 2 for 4, and Drew Wright was 1 for 3 with an RBI.
Oak Hill will play Friday at Choctaw County.
New Hope 16, Columbus 0
Pontotoc 5, Caledonia 4, 10 innings