By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – If you think the Falkner High baseball team is a one-man show, you’re absolutely wrong.
Yes, pitcher Will Robertson has done his part in carrying his team to the second round of the MHSAA Class 1A playoffs, but he didn’t have to do all of the lifting in Friday night’s game.
His teammates backed him with eight runs in the top of the sixth – all coming with two outs – as the visiting Eagles stole the series opener over the home-standing Tupelo Christian Prep Eagles, 9-4, at Andy Reese Field.
“Of course, our seniors, we count on them tremendously,” Falkner coach Chip Johnson said about the team’s only two seniors, Robertson and catcher Cameron Russell. “But it is so nice to see some of our younger kids contributing in a major way.
“I’m proud of them. I really am. And I’m thankful for it, too.”
Robertson (8-2) struck out 14 and allowed just three hits in going the distance versus an exceptional hitting team.
Johnson hasn’t determined a starter for Game 2, which is slated to get underway at 5 p.m. today in Falkner.
“We’re going to go with Drew Carter,” TCPS coach Will Lowrey said of his Game 2 starter. “He’s our No. 2. He’s been a strong guy all year long.”
Will Cockrell (6-2), who has also certainly been strong for TCPS this season, struggled with his control after a lengthy layoff. Despite only allowing two hits, he walked seven with one being intentional, hit five batters and allowed nine runs in 52/3 innings.
“I really don’t know. It’s probably been at least 12 days,” Lowrey said about the span his senior pitcher has gone without throwing in a real game. “We had the Mantachie game scheduled (for last Saturday), but they had the unfortunate tragedy there.
“We did some simulated games and some things to try to keep him fresh, but it’s hard to keep him game ready.”
After Cockrell blasted a solo homer to right center to give his team a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth, it appeared that the right-hander was well on his way to his seventh win of the year. Two-thirds of the way through the top of the sixth, he had retired nine batters in a row, with five of those outs being Ks.
The only run the Eagles got off him in the early innings was from an unintentional steal of home when Wesley Murphy broke to the plate because he thought a suicide squeeze was called by his coach.
The top of sixth, however, was when things fell apart for the big righty and his teammates. Cockrell hit Dallas Hill and then walked the next four batters in a row.
One of those bases on balls was to Robertson, the same player who made headlines for hitting two grand slams in one inning of a game this season. Lowrey opted to intentionally walk the Falkner slugger with the bases loaded, forcing in Falkner’s third run of the evening.
Even though Cockrell got him to ground into a 6-4 fielder’s choice with two outs and the bases loaded in the second inning, it was perhaps the best decision for TCPS.
“You look at our lineup and I’m not so sure I don’t do the same thing,” Johnson said about pitching around Robertson, who happened to have a couple of good rips in his previous at-bats. “I don’t think that’s a terrible coaching move.”
Unfortunately for TCPS, the move backfired. Cockrell hit Murphy, a throw was dropped from a routine ground ball that should have been an easy 6-4 force out to end the inning and sophomore Trevor Wilson followed with his first home run of the season, a three-run shot to left center.
Robertson then struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings to move his team one step closer to the quarterfinals.