TUPELO – The Tupelo Golden Wave entered the 2011 baseball season expecting its deep pitching staff to shoulder a significant load.
And the Wave hurlers have produced, lifting the team to a national ranking and No. 1 spot in the state during the regular season.
Now as Tupelo (26-2) hosts a quarterfinal contest today at 6 p.m. in the Class 6A State Tournament against the Northwest Rankin Cougars, expect seniors Ben Hudspeth and J. D. Roberts to shoulder the significant load within that staff.
“They’ve both been our Tuesday/Friday guys for five straight weeks of the regular season, and now the No. 1 starters in the playoffs,” Tupelo coach Gary Enis said. “Each time they get the ball, they’re keeping us in games, and being seniors, that experience shows.”
Hudspeth (8-2) and Roberts (8-0) have more than half of the Wave’s wins, and hope to push Tupelo into the semifinal round this weekend. Hudspeth, a right hander, was projected to be the starter tonight, while Roberts, and left hander, should get the start Saturday at 3 p.m. at Northwest Rankin.
“Because of our pitching depth, I think I’ve been able to relax more on the mound this season,” Roberts said. “That’s one of the things that’s helped us.”
“They way it’s set up now, I get to look at them the first game, and that helps me catching the second game,” Hudspeth said. “I think our staff has made it a lot easier for our hitters, keeping the runs down.”
The two have combined to allow only 20 earned runs in 20 appearances, with Hudspeth sporting a 1.38 ERA and Roberts a 1.35.
A look at the Cougars
Tupelo will need every edge it can get against Northwest Rankin (24-5).
The Cougars could come into this best-of-three series with a chip on their shoulders – with the Wave having eliminated them from the playoffs last season.
Or, Northwest could see Tupelo as just a hurdle to get a rematch with Madison Central in the next round, a team the Cougars lost to twice in the regular season. Of course, the Wave could see the Cougars as a hurdle, since Madison Central has eliminated Tupelo each of the last two seasons in the semifinals.
“I think we play better loose, and that’s the way we’ll approach this week, is to stay loose,” Enis said. “Our hitters will have to put the ball in play and get clutch hits.
“And do that against some of the best pitching we’ve seen all season. “
Two Cougars that could see the mound against Tupelo will be Reid Humphreys (7-3) and Cody Livingston (8-0). Both of these Cougars have thrown more than 50 innings this season, easily tops on their team.
David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal