Tupelo rides stout defense into Legion regional

Baseball StockBy GENE PHELPS
Daily Journal

Kirk Presley, a first-round MLB draft selection 20 years ago, knows how valuable a good defense is for a pitcher.

“When you have confidence in the guys behind you, you can attack the strike zone,” he said.

Presley’s Tupelo 49ers pitching staff should have plenty of confidence in its defense headed into this week’s Senior American Legion Mid-South Regional in North Little Rock, Ark. Tupelo (19-9) plays Hays, Kan., at 9 a.m. today in the opening round of the double-elimination event.

Tupelo’s infield of first basemen Hudson Roy and Drew Carter, second baseman Tucker Jenkins, shortstop Russ Johnson and third basemen Destin Hahn and Luke Weeden have been solid this summer.

“It’s been fun to watch this defense,” Presley said. “They’re going to eat up ground balls and make plays. I think we’ve made more double plays this summer than we have the last five years combined.”

The 49ers’ outfield of J.G. Miley, Tanner Poole, Michael Ray, McKamy Smith and Roy have been equally productive with their arms and speed.

“You can’t teach and can’t coach what we’ve got in the outfield,” Presley said. “Our guys are extremely fast and get good reads on the ball. They’ve also got good arms to get the ball back in. That plays a key role when it comes to saving extra bases.

“You want to get one past our outfield, you better leave the yard.”

Miley, who plays left field and center, was named the MVP of the state tournament.

He went 6-for-13 in three games and was 3-for-5 with a stolen base in the 14-6 win against Pontotoc in the championship game.

Presley is confident about his pitching staff headed into regional. Smith, Poole and Hahn were starters in the state tournament. Carter, Roy and Collin McCrory are available for starting and relief duties.

“I like our staff,” Presley said. “We’ve got guys who fill up the strike zone and give us a chance to win.”

Presley believes he has the pitchers to make it through a possible five-day run for a regional championship.

“We used everybody in our dugout two years ago,” he said, then laughed. “We have enough arms in the dugout this time.”

Tupelo won the regional in 2011 and reached the finals of the World Series.

gene.phelps@journalinc.com