By Laurence Hilliard
Winston County Journal
PEARL – It took Nanih Waiya a couple of innings for the bats to warm up Tuesday. But once they did, the Warriors rolled to a 14-2 victory over Smithville in the opening game of the MHSAA 1A baseball championship series.
Nanih Waiya will have a chance to win a state championship in Game 2 of the best-of-three series scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday at Trustmark Park, home of the Southern League Mississippi Braves. If a third game is necessary, it will be Saturday.
“After a while we settled down, battled throughout the game and put pressure on them,” said Nanih Waiya coach Tyler Rogers. “We hit some good pitchers today.”
The Warriors pounded out 14 hits, led by Roper Ball with three hits and Coley Taylor, Brady Jones, Corey Stanton, Jacob Kight and Chris Smith with two each. Taylor drove in four runs and Stanton scored three times.
“We did a good job of picking out pitches we needed to hit and when we got them, we drove them,” Rogers said.
Smithville coach Jamie Russell said “They hit the ball and we didn’t. That’s the bottom line.”
It didn’t start out well for the Warriors. Smithville jumped on Jones in the first inning with singles by Heath Noe and Stuart Coggins and a two-run double by Brian Blair for a quick 2-0 lead. Jones settled down after that, blanking the Seminole on one hit over the next five innings.
He said nerves played a factor in the first inning. “Every first inning we have come out and been a little shaky,” Jones said. “But once we get settled in we’re good.”
Smithville ace Chris Lockhart, who entered the game with a 5-0 record and a 0.57 ERA, retired the first seven batters before Nanih Waiya got to him in the third. The Warriors loaded the bases with one out on a double by Kight, a walk to Smith and a single by Ball. Lockhart had a chance to get out of the inning when Taylor hit a grounder to Heath Noe at short for a possible double play. But after getting a force at second, second baseman Aubrey Cox dropped the ball and two runners scored.
Nanih Waiya went ahead with two runs in the third, scoring on a sacrifice fly by Austin Richardson and a two-out single by Ball, then kept adding on to the lead with two runs each in the fifth and sixth and six in the seventh.
Jones struck out seven and walked one in improving to 9-0. “Starting off early, getting in the strike zone and staying in the strike zone,” was the key, he said.
Ball pitched a scoreless seventh, saving Jones one inning “in case we need him Friday or Saturday,” Rogers said. Jones was aided by two outstanding plays in the outfield – running over-the-shoulder catches by Stanton in center and Smith in left.
Ben Cumberland, with a 5-0 record and 1.63 ERA, will start Game 2 for Nanih Waiya. Russell would not commit on a pitcher. Blayde Scott, 5-1 with a 1.30 ERA, has been the Seminoles’ second best pitcher this year.
Nanih Waiya is 27-2 and Smithville 25-5-1.