Game One: Big Bats power NW past Smith Smithville in opener
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.
“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.
GAME 2: Warriors let one get away late in finals
By ROCKY HIGGINBOTHAM
Winston County Journal
PEARL – Around 18 hours before the Warriors celebrated their third state baseball championship in the last seven years, Nanih Waiya let an opportunity to clinch the title get away from them.
After rolling past Smithville in the series opener last Tuesday, Nanih Waiya had a chance to wrap up the title Friday afternoon here at Trustmark Park. The Warriors were seemingly in control and just two outs away from winning it all – and then the wheels fell off in a 4-2 defeat that forced Saturday’s if-necessary third game.
“We just let that one get away from us,” Nanih Waiya coach Tyler Rogers said after his squad gave up three unearned runs in the top of the seventh inning.
“We made a mistake or two and then it seemed like everything went their way,” Rogers said. “I hate it because Ben (Cumberland) absolutely threw well enough to win … should have won. But we didn’t make plays and we didn’t hit the ball the way we should.”
Nanih Waiya (28-3) actually had three hits and scored a couple of runs in the first inning and looked like it might be on its way to another easy win.
Roper Ball reached on an error to start the bottom of the first, took second on a passed ball and scored on a double by Cumberland.
Bryce Stanton’s single put two runners on base and Dalton Luke delivered a two-out, RBI double to make it 2-0.
A walk to Austin Richardson loaded the bases in the first, but Nanih Waiya left those three runners stranded and did not score again.
“That came back to haunt us right there,” Roger said. “I think we left eight or nine guys on base and give credit to their pitcher … we didn’t do much of anything against him after the first inning.”
Smithville’s Blayde Scott started and got the win, going 6.1 innings with five strikeouts. He allowed just the one earned run, retiring eight Warriors in a row at one point, with Heath Noe coming on to close out the game and earn the save.
Cumberland was the tough-luck loser, despite allowing only one earned run, as well. That came in the second when Jared Johnson and Isaac Johnson had back-to-back, two-out doubles to pull the Seminoles within 2-1.
It stayed that way until the seventh, with Nanih Waiya stranding a pair of runners in the second and fifth frames.
Ball and Coley Taylor had Nanih Waiya’s only other hits after the first inning.
“We got off to a quick start but just didn’t get it done after that,” Rogers said. “And it came back to bite us.”
Game 3: Warriors squeeze out Class 1 State Championship win
By Laurence Hilliard
Winston County Journal
PEARL — Nanih Waiya used a suicide squeeze for the first time this year Saturday and it resulted in the MHSAA Class 1A State Championship for the Warriors.
For 6 1/2 innings, Brady Jones of Nanih Waiya and Heath Noe of Smithville were locked in a scoreless pitching duel. With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Bryce Stanton lined a single to left for the Warriors’ second hit.
With Stanton running on the pitch and Smithville shortstop Jared Johnson moving to cover second, Dalton Luke hit a liner to the vacated spot. Johnson got his glove on the ball, but it went into left field and Stanton reached third.
After an intentional walk to Austin Richardson to load the bases, Nanih Waiya coach Tyler Rogers signaled a suicide squeeze.
“There wasn’t a lot of hitting going on. I felt like that might be the best way to get a run.”
Jake Kight put the ball in play and Stanton raced home, setting off a Nanih Waiya celebration.
When he saw the sign, Kight thought “0h Lord! I gotta do it. I gotta do it. Man, I’m so happy I got it down.”
Jones, the winner with six strong innings when the Warriors took the series opener 14-2 Tuesday, was even better Saturday, allowing only one hit.
“I knew if I threw strikes we could stay in the ball game, and that’s exactly what I tried to do,” he said. “I felt good today. I was ready to go.”
“Coming back off three days rest, he threw an absolute gem,” Rogers said.
Jones benefited from an umpire’s call and a defensive play by Stanton.
Noe led off the game with a bunt single, the Seminoles’ only hit. Dustin Moffett bunted and Jones’ throw went past first as Noe circled the bases and Moffett went to third. But Moffett was ruled out for running outside the first base line and Noe was returned to first.
With two on and two out in the Smithville sixth, Stuart Coggins sent a drive to deep center that Stanton hauled in with his back to home plate.
“I got a good read on the ball,” he said. “I got a good jump.”
The victory came less than 24 hours after the Warriors lost a seventh inning lead when Smithville scored three unearned runs for a 4-2 win to even the series. “They didn’t get down,” Rogers said of his players.
It is the third state title for the Warriors (27-3), following championships in 2011 and 2012. Smithville (26-6-1) won its only championship in 2014.