Meridian Star


May 11, 2014

Knights give coach exciting birthday win

COLLINSVILLE — COLLINSVILLE — Jerry Boatner turned 69 on Friday, but his team’s game probably took a few years off his life.

After falling behind to Lafayette High School 3-0 early, the West Lauderdale High School head baseball coach watched as his Knights slowly battled back in Game 2 of the second round of the MHSAA Class 4A playoffs.

West cut it to 3-2, but Lafayette then extended its lead 4-2. West tied it in the bottom of the fifth then went ahead 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth. In the meantime, Knights pitching issued nine hits and seven walks and failed to have a 1-2-3 inning the entire game. But Colton McKeithen pitched around two base-on-balls for the save, earning a sweep of Lafayette and sending West to the North State title game Thursday.

“My sister says I must have a real strong heart, because I go through this a lot,” the birthday boy joked afterward. “This is not the first time, and I’m sure it’s not the last time. I’m just so proud of the boys. We didn’t play well tonight. We didn’t pitch as well as we usually do — we were wild, but I’m really proud of the way we came back.”

The winning run came courtesy of pinch-runner Garrett Slay, who took off from third on a passed ball to help send the Knights to the next round of the playoffs.

“It was really special,” Slay said of scoring the winning run. “I’d rather win now than have to go back to Oxford. The ball was in the dirt and went to the back wall, and we always go on that.”

With the lead, McKeithen replaced winning pitcher Ryan Lane to get the save. But McKeithen walked the first batter before Lane made a leaping catch at first behind his back to get the first out. The Commodores’ Tyler Hunter then grounded out, advancing the runner to second. TJ Hollis then drew a walk to put two on, but McKeithen got Devon Thomas to fly out to right field for the save.

“I just wanted to throw strikes and let my defense do work,” McKeithen said. “I like coming in when it’s tight. I like the pressure — I strive off it. I’m an adrenaline junkie. I tried to keep people off base, but some people got on, and I just had to work through that. I’m just glad we were able to come back as a team and show them what we could do.”

Lane pitched six innings, surrendering four runs on nine hits and five walks. He also struck out four.

The game remained scoreless until the top of the third when the Commodores plated three runs. But West cut the lead to one in the bottom half of the frame when McKain Ortlepp scored on a fielder’s choice by Blake Anderson and Fred Franklin came in from third after the ball sailed into the outfield when Lafayette tried to gun down Anderson stealing second.

Daniel Hill, who was West’s only multiple hitter after he finished 2-for-3, had the big hit of the night when he belted a two-run home run off Hollis, the Commodores’ starter, in the bottom of the fifth inning. Hollis lasted five innings, surrendering four runs on four hits with three walks and two strikeouts.

Lafayette reliever Eli Murphree was charged with the loss, giving up one run on one hit with one strikeout in one inning pitched.

The Knights (29-2) advanced to the North State title round, beginning Thursday, and Boatner said it was a good feeling making it back to the state semifinal round on his 69th birthday.

“It’s the first time it’s happened in a while,” Boatner said. “It’s a great feeling, a great birthday present.”

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