By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
A week ago, Tupelo’s baseball team was favored … to go down in flames to Northwest Rankin in its first-round MHSAA 6A state playoff series.
It didn’t happen that way.
The Golden Wave, thanks to the play of outfielder Drew Alford, pitchers Cody Shrewsbury, Ben Hudspeth and J.D. Roberts and others, swept the Cougars, winning 5-2 and 5-4.
Tupelo is preparing to play arch-rival Clinton in a state quarterfinals best-of-three series that opens at 6 p.m. Friday at Golden Wave Field.
The second game is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at Mississippi College’s field in Clinton.
“It motivated us to hear and read on the Internet that we were going to lose in two games to Northwest Rankin,” said Alford, whose two-run homer in the top of the seventh gave the Wave its winning edge in Game 2. “To win in two games was really big for us.”
Alford, a senior, called his homer off Northwest Rankin star left-hander, Brandon Langston, “the biggest hit of my life.”
Tupelo (20-8) and Clinton (18-10) are meeting for the fifth consecutive year in the postseason. The Golden Wave has won the four previous series in this heated rivalry.
“It’s special,” Alford said of the THS-Clinton matchup. “We don’t want to be the ones to ruin the tradition by not beating them.”
Golden Wave coach Gary Enis, whose team started the season 1-3, says his club is playing “hot at the right time.”
“We’re playing with a lot more confidence,” he said. “I think the big difference is we’re playing more relaxed.”
Enis has gotten solid pitching from Shrewsbury (5-2), Hudspeth (6-1) and J.D. Roberts (4-0 3 saves). Shrewsbury, a lefty, won the series opener against Northwest Rankin while Hudspeth started and got the win in Game 2 and Roberts earned the save.
“We’re all on the same page,” Alford said of the team’s offense, defense and pitching.
The winner of this series could meet defending 6A state champion Madison Central in the state semifinals. However, Enis, whose club is considered the favorite in its best-of-three duel against Clinton, takes nothing for granted.
“Clinton’s playing as well as any team in the state, and they’ve done it without some key players,” he said. “They’ve had some guys step up and make plays. They’re also hitting the baseball at the right time.”
Enis also noted that one of Madison Central’s two losses was to the Arrows.