By Parrish Alford
Chad Hill likes a challenge, and he’ll get one this weekend. His coach issued it to the Memphis area.
Oxford High School baseball coach Roger Smith will watch his idea become reality Friday in the first Mississippi Challenge. Patterned after college baseball’s Winn Dixie Showdown in New Orleans, the Mississippi Challenge pits three Mississippi high school teams against three from another state.
In this first edition, Mississippi takes on Tennessee, with all three schools coming from the Memphis area. Smith’s future plans are to include Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana in the Challenge.
“This has worked so well with the Winn Dixie Showdown,” Smith said. “We’ve got a good location here. Why not give it a shot with the high schools?”
This Friday and Saturday, Oxford, Tupelo and Starkville will represent Mississippi against Memphis area schools Christian Brothers, Germantown and White Station. Nine games will be spread out over two days at Ole Miss and Oxford High School.
“We’d like this event to become as big and as nice as possible,” Smith said. “It would be nice down the road to maybe have a sponsor. Right now we’re kind of feeling our way through everything.”
Hill, an Ole Miss signee, is one of three seniors providing leadership to a young bunch of Chargers. He hopes Oxford is up to the Mississippi Challenge.
“Everybody knows their role,” Hill said. “If we tell them to do something, we’re trying to help them. They (younger players) pretty much listen to what we say.”
Hill is a good teacher. A shortstop, he’s hitting .564 with a pair of homers, six doubles and 11 steals.
The Chargers will need Hill’s stick and guidance this weekend.
Christian Brothers (9-0) enters play ranked fifth in Tennessee’s prep baseball poll. Germantown (5-2) is ranked 16th and finished last season ranked No. 1 by USA Today. One of Germantown’s losses came 11-10 to Christian Brothers. White Station is 5-2.
Smith knows the Memphis area well. He played for Germantown coach Phil Clark on a teenage summer league team growing up in Memphis.
“It’s really a kick for me to play against him,” Smith said.
Smith expects strong pitching from the Memphis teams.
“Germantown has two or three really good pitchers, and White Station has one who can really be dominant,” he said.
Tupelo begins the tournament 13-2 with a nine-game winning streak. The Golden Wave is winning while it gains experience with six new starters in the field. Tupelo is ranked 12th by the Clarion-Ledger, which conducts the state’s baseball poll. Starkville is 11-3 and ranked fifth.
Smith likens his team to Tupelo in terms of experience. Oxford is 10-3 but just 2-3 in Division 1-4A, going into Wednesday’s home game with Itawamba AHS. The Chargers lost 15-14 to Tishomingo County and 19-18 to Alcorn Central.
Smith sees the Challenge as a learning experience and feels no guilt in throwing his Chargers to the kings of the Memphis baseball jungle.
“We’ll respect everyone, but we’re not going to lay down,” he said. “We’ve taken a motto of not to walk between the chalk.”
Hill personifies this, shifting gears when he crosses the line.
“Chad is the type of kid who leads by the things he does,” Smith said. “He’s not real vocal when he’s playing, but the others look to him to see how he’s doing.
“It would be easy for a player like him to not worry about these young kids and just take care of himself. But there’s no selfishness with him. When you get between the chalk he’s giving everything he’s got. When you watch us practice or play, everyone responds to him real well. He’s in the process of helping take the younger kids to another level.”
While Hill himself will go to another level next spring, everyone does not. Competing in an event like the Mississippi Challenge can provide a lasting memory for all who participate.
“Our kids like playing on the college fields,” Smith said. “They all dream of playing college or pro ball, but not every kid is a prospect. This is something all of them can look back on.
“We’re not here just to put kids in college. We’re here to teach baseball, help (players) make good people and help them do some things to feel good about themselves.”