BY GENE PHELPS
TUPELO – Kyle Thornton’s arm is coming around at the right time – the postseason – for Tupelo’s No. 1-ranked baseball team.
The Golden Wave’s senior right-hander, who has struggled with slight tendonitis, had his strongest performance of the year in last week’s 6-5 loss to South Panola. In that game, his fastball was clocked in the mid to high 80s, and he struck out 10. He also scattered seven hits and walked none.
“I was pleased with my performance, but not with losing the game,” said Thornton, an Ole Miss signee who was 12-2 with a 1.41 ERA last season. “I do feel like I’m pitching stronger. I was hitting my spots against South Panola.”
Thornton, who’s seen limited mound time this spring, is 3-1 with a 2.36 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 292-3 innings.
Golden Wave coach Gary Enis, whose team opens the MHSAA Class 5A state playoffs at home Friday, was pleased with his pitcher’s most-recent outing.
“That’s the sharpest Kyle’s looked all year,” the coach said. “He was able to throw three pitches for strikes – fastball, slider and a changeup. Prior to that it had been strictly fastball.”
Enis is confident he can add Thornton to a rotation that features Chris Stratton (7-0, 1.69 ERA) and Nathan Flanagan (4-1, 3.03 ERA).
“We’re looking for good things from him in the playoffs,” Enis said. “He’s back in the rotation, it’s just a matter of where. A lot depends on who we’re playing.”
Stratton, a junior, will get the starting nod in Friday’s playoff game against Madison Central or Greenville-Weston.
While Thornton’s had his struggles on the mound, he’s provided some pop at the plate. He’s batting .337 with 10 doubles, five home runs and 24 RBI.
Outfielder Gardner Richey leads the Wave with a .463 average that includes a team-high eight homers and 40 RBIs. He’s followed by catcher Evan Weibel, the leadoff hitter, who’s batting .404 with 10 doubles. Flanagan, an outfielder/pitcher, is hitting .386 with seven homers and 40 RBIs.
Tupelo goes into the playoffs looking to end a two-game losing streak. The team opened the season with 25 straight wins and earned Baseball America’s No. 1 prep ranking, along with a No. 2 ranking by USA Today. Collegiate Baseball still has the team at No. 6 despite the losses.
“The mental part is fine,” Enis said. “We were two outs away from beating South Panola. We just fell short. We’re trying to remain positive and stay sharp; that’s all you can do.”