By Rocky Higginbotham
Winston County Journal
Nanih Waiya had a few crazy, chaotic wins early. But for the most part, the Warriors were simply not challenged in a host of games.
So when they finally faced adversity in last week’s South State Championship Series in the MHSAA Class 1A State Baseball Playoffs, it would have been easy for them to panic.
But Nanih Waiya coach Tyler Rogers says he was confident his team’s demeanor would remain the same, and that’s just what it did.
Nanih Waiya came from behind in back-to-back games to post victories over Resurrection Catholic, winning 6-3 and 6-5 to claim the South State title and earn a trip back to the state championship.
The Warriors overcame a two-run deficit in a 6-3 win at Resurrection last Thursday. After Friday’s game was postponed, Nanih Waiya got down 3-0 and came from behind twice in a 6-5 win at home Saturday to sweep the series.
“One thing about this group, and it’s been this way all year long: Whether it’s a one-run ball game or a 10-run ball game, their demeanor stays the same,” Rogers said. “So that’s what I expected.
“You won’t see them get too relaxed or too nervous. I thought I kinda saw it in the first inning down there when we got behind 2-0, but we came right back with a couple hits and tied it up and settled back down.”
Nanih Waiya’s two wins lifted the team to 26-2 and sent them to Trustmark Park in Pearl this week for the Class 1A State Championship Series. The Warriors were to face North State champ Smithville in Game 1 Tuesday, and they’ll tangle in Game 2 Friday at 4 p.m. A third-and-if-necessary contest will likely be Saturday.
While the Warriors have had spells of not being challenged, that goes double for senior pitchers Brady Jones and Ben Cumberland. The duo of Blue Mountain College signees are a combined 13-0 this season and sport earned-run averages of 2.33 and 1.63.
Both found themselves in a little trouble in the South State series, but both also quickly regrouped and turned in complete-game wins.
“They both had bad first innings and that kinda goes with nerves,” Rogers said. “But after we got out of the first inning of those games, they buckled down, settled down and got the job done the rest of the way.”
In the opener, Jones gave up six hits and three runs (two earned) in seven innings. He struck out four and walked two.
The contest was tied 2-2 after two innings and 3-3 after three. Nanih Waiya took the lead for good with a run in the fourth and got two insurance runs in the seventh.
Jake Kight hit a solo home run and Roper Ball had two hits to lead the Warriors, while Cumberland doubled and scored.
Coley Taylor singled and scored twice; Tanner Luke and Chris Smith both singled and had one RBI; Dalton Luke singled and scored; Bryce Stanton had two RBIs; and Jones scored once.
In Saturday’s game, Resurrection scored three times in the top of the first and led until Taylor tied it with a two-run homer in the bottom of the third.
Resurrection went back ahead 5-4 in the fourth inning, but Nanih Waiya scored twice in the sixth and held on for the win.
In the sixth, Ball’s one-out single scored Kight to tie things up. Then Tanner Luke hit a sacrifice fly to score Taylor with what proved to be the game-winning run.
Taylor was 2-for-3 with the homer and three RBIs and Ball was 3-for-4 with a run and an RBI to lead Nanih Waiya.
Stanton had a solo home run in the second, while Kight was 2-for-2 with a double and a run scored. Cumberland and Tanner Luke scored the team’s other runs.
Cumberland went all seven innings, scattering 10 hits while striking out four and walking just one.