By Parrish Alford
High school baseball playoffs haven’t officially begun, but Tupelo High has recorded an unofficial playoff win.
In a turnaround from its loss to Columbus in the first round, Tupelo collected 10 hits and sent the Falcons home early in a 10-0 Division 2-5A win at Tupelo Tuesday.
“We told them that our playoffs were starting tonight. We wanted a playoff-type atmosphere,” Tupelo coach Larry Harmon said.
He got one. The Wave showed a patience at the plate not exhibited in the 3-2 loss to the Falcons earlier. Most Tupelo basehits went to the opposite field as batters got a steady diet of breaking pitches from three Columbus pitchers.
“Everything they hit had eyes,” said Columbus coach Tommy Upton, whose team fell to 6-20 overall and 1-4 in the division. “You can’t touch them when they’re playing like that.
“They hit the ball tonight, and they didn’t do that at our place. They didn’t chase a lot of breaking balls out of the strike zone like they did at our place.”
The Wave (20-8, 4-1) got great defense too, especially from outfielders Luke McAlpin and Burney Hutchinson.
McAlpin, a sophomore starting for center fielder Jason Long who missed the game on a school field trip, was perfect in four fly ball attempts, sprinting back for an over-the-shoulder catch on one.
Hutchinson also covered some ground, sprinting in from deep right field to make a fifth-inning catch in foul territory.
“That (Hutchinson) catch ought to be CNN’s play of the day,” Upton said. “If somebody got that on tape I hope they send it in.”
Columbus starter Jay Blackburn received little damage early. Tupelo had just a 1-0 lead after two innings, but roughed up Blackburn with four runs on five hits in the third.
With one out Duncan Foster sliced a two-run double down the left field line. Then, with Foster aboard, Rudy Strahan homered to left for a 5-0 lead.
Foster and Billy Curry each had RBI singles in the fourth as the Wave tacked on three more. Tupelo got the two runs it needed to close the door in the fifth. Freshman Kelly Shumpert scored the 10th run when he walked, stole second and took third and home on wild pitches.
While the offense was cruising, so was Tupelo starter Mel McElroy. He allowed just two Columbus hits, walked one and struck out four.
“Our guys did a good job of waiting on the breaking balls,” Harmon said. “They went the other way with most of their hits. They adjusted, and we’re real proud of that.
“We’ve been inconsistent at times, but we’ve played hard and beat some good teams. We’ve got Oxford Thursday, then we’ll play for the division championship at Starkville Saturday. That’s been our goal.”
Columbus 000 00 0 2 1
Tupelo 014 32 10 10 1
WP – Mel McElroy. LP – Jay Blackburn. Multiple Hits – (T) Burney Hutchinson, Duncan Foster, Billy Curry 3. 2B – (T) Andy Williamson, Foster. HR – (T) Rudy Strahan. Records: Tupelo 20-8, 4-1. Columbus 6-20, 1-4.
Notes – Tupelo takes on Oxford at home Thursday, then plays at Starkville Saturday in a game to decide the Division 2-5A championship.