Seven of the 10 teams playing in the first game of North Mississippi semifinal series today are from the area.
The toughest task facing any of those teams today is in Class 4A where the Itawamba AHS Indians (26-6) host the New Hope Trojans (39-0) at 7 p.m.
“I think we can get caught up in that streak,” Itawamba AHS coach Brian Long said, “but we are more interested in winning the North half championship.”
The Trojans’ 39-game winning streak has to be broken before IAHS can do that, though.
The Trojans have already set a state record for most consecutive wins in a season and could tie Iuka’s 1989 state record for wins in a season by taking the best-of-three series from IAHS, which is making its first trip to this level of the baseball playoffs.
Six other area teams are also trying to play their way into the state finals this weekend.
The series open today with Tupelo hosting Madison Central at 5 p.m. in Class 5A, Pontotoc hosting Hollandale Simmons (30-0) at 5 p.m. in Class 3A, the Mooreville Troopers hosting South Pontotoc (27-8) at 5 p.m. in Class 3A and Biggersville (18-14-1) hosting Hamilton (20-6) at 7 p.m. in Class 1A.
Long said there is no question that New Hope is as good as its record, and that the Trojans are supposed to win this series. He also feels IAHS, which has set a school record for wins, is capable of pulling the upset.
The key will be how well pitcher Jamie Rock (12-1, 1.92 ERA, 141 strikeouts) can hold down the Trojan hitting attack, while the IAHS batters try to solve a New Hope pitching rotation that has an ERA under 2.00.
Long said that he is confident where offense is concerned. His Indians, “outside of home runs, in all offensive categories we match up with them pretty well,” he said.
The Indians are hitting .352 as a team, 10 points higher than New Hope. Three members of the team are hitting over .400, led by Rock, who has a .515 average and 41 RBI. Chris White hits .420 with 38 RBI, and Dale Kent hits .415 with 45 RBI.
“I have heard that their pitchers like to throw strikes. That may be a plus for us,” Long said. “Our kids are going to dig in that back foot and say bring it on.”
Long said that could also go against them if the players get to over-swinging, but he doesn’t think that will be a problem.
He said last weekend the Indians faced a top pitcher in Will Crowdus for six innings.
“Then we made the adjustments and started putting the ball in play,” Long said of the 8-7 comeback win to clinch the series against Kosciusko.
“With the group of six seniors (Rock, Chris White, Grant Martin, Timmy Carroll and Adam Lesley) we have, I don’t think there is a game too big for them,” Long said.