Thursday, May 15, 2008
By BARRY BURLESON
Marshall Academy goes for its first ever state baseball championship this week.
“This is an awesome feeling,” head coach Jimmy Hicks told his team after Saturday’s dramatic 4-3 win over Kirk Academy for the North State crown. “Not many people get the opportunity to play for a state championship. Let’s take advantage of it.”
The Patriots (22-6) will face Central Private School (La.) (30-2) in a best-of-three series this week for the Class AA title. State baseball championships are common for the Rebels. Last year they won both state and overall crowns.
“They have a rich tradition,” Hicks said. “But we’re all very excited and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The first game was scheduled for Tuesday at Marshall. Game two will be played Thursday at 6 p.m. at Central Private (near Baton Rouge). Game three, if needed, will be back in Holly Springs Friday at 6 p.m.
“I told you we had the talent to win a state championship,” Hicks told his Patriots. “Do you believe it now?”
“Yes sir,” they replied in unison.
“Let’s go get Central Private,” he said. “We’re not finished yet.”
Justin Gray provided the game-winning hit in Saturday’s third and decisive game of the north half finals. It came on the home field with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the eighth inning.
“I felt confident Justin would come through in that situation,” Hicks said. “He’s been playing well all year. He stepped up and got the game-winning hit. I’m real proud of him.”
Tyler Childers, who had hit a solo homer earlier in the game, led off the bottom of the extra inning with a double. Both Hunter Bolden and Tyler Sanders walked to load the bases.
“I told Coach (Russell) Cook if we got out of the top of the eighth without them scoring, with Childers leading off, the game was ours,” Coach Hicks said.
Chris Gardner was the hero from the mound for the Patriots. He threw all eight innings – striking out six, walking three and giving up seven hits. Hicks said he did not hesitate to send Gardner back to the mound in the eighth.
“He’d been throwing well, and he still felt good,” Hicks said. “It was his game to win or lose.”
Marshall had six hits.
MA jumped out front 2-0 in the bottom of the first, both runs coming with two outs. Jake Omedeo singled for one run-batted-in, and then Caleb Byrd doubled for an RBI.
The Raiders got all three of their runs in the top of the second to take a brief 3-2 lead.
That’s because in the bottom of the second, Childers homered to knot the score.
The bats were pretty quiet the rest of the way for both teams. MA’s Gardner got three up, three down in the third, fourth and fifth innings.
Joey Brock singled for the Patriots in the fourth, which was the team’s last hit until Childers lit the spark in the eighth.
Each team committed just two errors.
The defensive star for MA was Bolden, who made two diving catches in left field. He kept runs from scoring in both the second and seventh innings.
The Patriots broke a 3-3 tie with two runs in the fifth and six in the seventh and clobbered Kirk 11-3 Tuesday of last week in game one.
“Most of the time we just don’t get going until the fourth, fifth or sixth innings,” Hicks said about his offense. “In that sixth inning we hit some of the hardest balls we’ve hit all year.”
Seven of Marshall’s 12 hits came in the sixth. Freshman Joey Brock had his first varsity career home run, a two-run shot, to get things started in the big inning. Also getting in on the hit parade in were Childers with a double, Bolden with a single, Tyler Sanders with a double, Gray with a double, Byrd with a single and Nick Tate with a single.
“It took us a while to get going but better late than never,” Hicks said.
Sanders and Gray had three hits each on the day – Sanders two singles and a double, Gray two doubles and a single.
The other Patriot to hit safely was Omedeo with a single.
Gardner threw five innings and got the win. He gave up four hits, walked three, hit a batter and struck out two. Shane Campbell relieved him in the top of the sixth. Campbell faced eight batters. He struck out one, hit a batter and issued no walks.
“Winning the first game in a series is huge,” Hicks said. “It sets the tone. That’s one you need to get.
“It was a great playoff atmosphere – a lot of fun. That’s what the playoffs are all about.”
Friday’s trip to Kirk, after a rainout Thursday, proved to be a nightmare for the Patriots. MA lost 9-1.
“Everything bad that could happen to us did,” Coach Hicks said. “We didn’t play well to say the least. It was sloppy.”
The sloppiness started when MA made two errors in the first inning and fell behind 2-0.
“We got in a hole and never go tout,” he said.
Campbell took the loss.
Kirk had six hits to MA’s four. Childers, Bolden, Omedeo and Wesley Harris each singled for the Patriots.
Hicks said most of all playing a state championship series will be “great memories for the kids.”
“They will take this experience with them the rest of their lives,” he said. “This is a huge accomplishment. I’m so proud of these guys. It’s going to be fun.”
Central Private School swept Copiah Academy 4-3 and 7-5 for the South State championship.
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