BOONEVILLE – Water Valley baseball coach Doug Robbins knew that his hitters would come through in a big way on Monday night.
And they did, helping the visiting Blue Devils to a 7-6 victory in the decisive Game 3 of a Class 3A state semifinal series.
Trailing Booneville 5-3 before the start of the sixth inning, Robbins addressed his team. “Down by two runs going into the sixth, I got up in front of the dugout and said, ‘Guys we’ve been hitting the ball all night long,’ ” he said. ” ‘At some point in this game, it’s going to break for you.’ ”
It sure did.
Facing Booneville ace Kyle Stephenson, a Northeast signee, visiting Water Valley struck for four runs on five hits to take a 7-5 lead.
“I thought he made some good pitches that they hit well,” Booneville coach Bo Sandlin said of his ace, who entered the game with a 10-0 record and a 1.90 earned run average.
One of the players who hit Stephenson well was Walt McCullough. The junior outfielder and pitcher had three hits and two RBIs in the win.
Drew Pratt also had three hits for Water Valley (22-7). McCullough (5-1) also pitched well enough in relief – getting the last seven outs – to lead his team into the Class 3A state championship series, where it will play Sumrall in a best-of-three series at Pearl’s Trustmark Park next week.
His words and attitude at a critical point in the game, however, may have made more of an impact on his team. He set the theme by pointing his team to its next destination – the state finals played just outside the state capitol.
“All of the guys around me had their heads down,” McCullough said of the fifth inning, when he entered the game to pitch. “I told them, ‘We’re going to Jackson. I don’t care what’s gonna happen, we’re going.
“That’s all we kept saying. In the dugout, that was our chant, ‘We’re going to Jackson.’
Water Valley jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third inning before Booneville rallied with five runs in their next three innings on two wild pitches and RBI hits by Drew Cristo, Jeiron Jones and Stephenson.
Water Valley starting pitcher Josh Johnson was pulled with his team still leading 3-2 and no outs in the fifth. Shanquayle Jenkins came on in relief, but couldn’t get out of the inning.
Robbins then brought in McCullough.
The second pitching change paid off, as McCullough struck out Andrew Lambert, with Jones in scoring position, to end the fifth.
“I needed Shonquayle to bridge us just a littler longer than he did,” Robbins said. “Josh, I knew he was going to run out of gas. But I was hoping to just get a solid inning out of Shonquayle to get Walt to the mound. But it didn’t work out that way.
“Shonquayle was tired and he had pitched a great game on Saturday. I went to Walt a little bit earlier than I wanted to, but he stepped up and he got it done.”
Booneville scored once in the bottom of the seventh as Stephenson drove in Tre Welch with a base hit through the left side of the infield with one out. McCullough worked around an infield error to leave the tying run stranded at first.
“The pitching changes they made, those guys battled and found a way to get us out,” Sandlin said. His team finished the season 21-10.
Booneville won the first game of the series, here on Thursday, 5-4. Water Valley took Game 2 on Saturday at home, 8-1.
John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal