AREA TEAMS IN STRONG POSITIONS FOR DECIDING GAMES
By Mike Talbert
Area teams are battling for a state championship berth in all five North Mississippi semifinal baseball series today.
Two area baseball teams are taking first game victories on the road. Two others are returning home with wins under their belts for the second game of the semifinal series.
The second game of all the series starts at 1 p.m., with the third game immediately after if needed.
At Springville, the South Pontotoc Cougars (28-8) will be trying advance to their first state Class 2A championship round against a program with the deepest baseball tradition in the area, the Mooreville Troopers (24-10).
Mooreville has been in the final four situation 16 times under various formats in 24 years with coach Rex Berryman. It has won five state championships after getting past the semifinals eight times.
Hamilton (20-6) hosts Biggersville (18-15-1) after winning the Class 1A first game 6-5 at Biggersville. The Tupelo Golden Wave, thanks to a 3-0 no-hit win thrown by freshman Justin Bonds, heads to Madison Central with a lead in the Class 5A series. Pontotoc heads to Hollandale in Class 3A after handing Simmons (30-1) its only loss 11-1 in just five innings.
The Itawamba AHS Indians (26-7) may have the toughest task of the day in a Class 4A date at New Hope (40-0), which won Game 1 13-2 at Fulton Thursday.
South Pontotoc coach Steve Lyles has confidence in his Cougars, who are at a level they never reached before in their fifth consecutive trip to the playoffs.
“We have just got to win another game. If they beat us twice at our place they deserve to advance,” Lyles said.
South Pontotoc has lost only once in 15 home games this season. That loss was a first-round playoff game with Hatley, the team that finished second to Mooreville in the Division 1-2A race.
Lyles plans to pitch Chance Austin (3-0) and Chad Holcomb (5-2) in the first game. Then, if needed, southpaw Sonny Holcomb (13-1) wants to throw again after one of his worst outings of the year in beating Mooreville.
Berryman concedes the Troopers (24-10) are in trouble, but adds, “We came into this season trying to win the state championship, and until we get beat for the last time that is what we are going to try to do.”
He will go with left-hander Daniel McKinney (7-3), who pitched only three innings in a Thursday start. He will come back with Rhasheen Dilworth (9-3) if needed.
Berryman said he expects South Pontotoc to keep up the running/bunting pressure on the Troopers and force the defense to make the kind of errors that have hurt the Troopers this season.
“That’s what I would do if I were playing Mooreville,” Berryman said. “We have been able to hit the ball well against good pitchers. If we get a game where we can field the ball like we hit it, we’ll be all right.”