By Paul Jones/Special to the Journal
STARKVILLE – Not even halfway through the Division 2-6A schedule, Tupelo didn’t exactly view Thursday’s trip to Starkville as a must-win game. But it was an important test.
And for the second time in three days, Tupelo and Starkville needed extra innings to settle the outcome. After falling 2-0 in nine innings Tuesday, the Golden Wave bounced back with an 8-3 win in eight innings.
“I tell you what, after a tough defeat Tuesday night this says a lot about our club,” said Tupelo head coach Mark Enis. “It tells a lot about our club coming down to a tough place to play. We learned a lot about our squad tonight. It was just a great win by our club tonight and I am very proud of our team.”
With the win, Tupelo moved to 10-4 and remained atop the division at 3-1. Starkville dropped to 9-3 and 2-2.
In the top of the eighth inning, Tupelo centerfielder Collin Dexter delivered a two-out, two-run single off Starkville southpaw Shaquille Hill to plate the winning runs. Tupelo would add three more insurance runs in the frame.
Dexter had two hits on the night, including a double, as did Drew Alford and Sanders West.
“I went up to bat knowing I had to hit the ball and I had all the confidence,” said Dexter. “I just stuck one.
It was a fastball up and I just tried to put it in play. I didn’t won’t to have a long swing. My first at-bats I kept popping up (against Hill) and getting under it. So I just adjusted.”
Tupelo took an early 3-0 lead only to see Starkville tie the game in the bottom of the sixth inning. Starkville’s R.J. Johnson tied the game at 3-3 with a two-run homer off Tupelo starting pitcher Ben Hudspeth, who allowed just two earned runs and six hits in 62⁄3 innings of work.
Starkville threatened to end the game in the next inning. However, with runners at first and second and two outs, Tupelo reliever Kirk Roberts got Hill to ground out to first and sent the game into extra innings.
Roberts picked up the victory and sat down all four batters he faced, including a pair of strikeouts in the eighth inning.
“It gave us a lot of confidence,” said Enis of Roberts’ performance in the seventh inning. “We talked a lot about having some confidence before the game. We were confident in (Roberts) getting that third out in that inning. After a 100 pitches, (Hudspeth) was done and Roberts kept us alive.
“We just got some guys to step up at the right time. And again, it said a lot about what kind of team we were tonight and that was an encouraging sign.”