Meridian Star

Sports

May 20, 2014

Knights eye state title versus Purvis

COLLINSVILLE —     The West Lauderdale High School baseball team will play for the MHSAA Class 4A state championship in a best-of-three series against Purvis High School set to begin at 1 p.m. Thursday.

    The Knights have become exceedingly acclimated to competing for state titles

under coach Jerry Boatner, who has accumulated 12 championships in his 41-year tenure as head coach.

    Yet this year is particularly special for Boatner and the Knights, as the current crop of seniors have yet to experience a state championship season, with the last state title being in 2009.

    “We have an outstanding group of seniors,” Boatner said. “One of the best groups that we’ve had and they’re all playing really well right now.”

    Added senior third baseman Colton McKeithen, “It’s really something special. It’s a great feeling to know that you’re team is good enough to make it this far.”

    Along with McKeithen, who has signed with East Mississippi Community College, , five other West Lauderdale seniors have signed letters of intent to further prolong their baseball careers.

    Blake Anderson (Southern Miss), Will Stokes (Ole Miss), Ryan Lane (Mississippi Community College), Daniel Hill (MCC) and Mason Wooldridge (East Central Community College) have all inked with colleges.

    This weekend will mark the seniors last opportunity to play together, having spent the majority of their baseball careers playing together.  

    “We’ve been playing together ever since we are eight years old,” Lane said. “It’s incredible.”

    Added McKeithen, “A lot of people don’t get to experience that. They just play with the same people once they get to (high) school ball.”

That profound collectiveness paid strong dividends for the Knights in the 2014 campaign.

    “We really learned to work together this year,”McKeithen said. “We’ve really learned to work together as brothers and not just as a team. We love each other and we hang out with each other on the weekends ... We’ve been able to form a bond like no other.”

    After losing to St. Stanislaus High School in the playoffs in 2013, the Knights have all the motivation needed following a disappointing ending last year.

WLHS had to play its series against the Rock-a-Chaws without Lane, the team’s No. 2 starter. In the series prior, Lane tore his Ulnar Collateral Ligament in his right elbow.

    “It wasn’t the best feeling in the world,” Lane said. “But I knew that it wasn’t the end of the world. It was kind of depressing to sit on the sidelines and watch my teammates play knowing that I could have been out there playing.”

The typical timetable for recovery from that injury is a 12-14 month rehabilitation process. Yet Lane managed to recover in time for the 2014 season and has compiled a 10-1 record with a 0.69 earned run average with 84 strikeouts in 60 and 2/3 innings.

    “It wasn’t the best feeling in the world,” Lane said. “But I knew that it wasn’t the end of the world. It was kind of depressing to sit on the sidelines and watch my teammates play knowing that I could have been out there playing.”

    For McKeithen, the senior third baseman has the added pressure of batting behind and attempting to protect Anderson, a projected top baseball prospect.

    Yet McKeithen, who leads the Knights with a .467 batting average,  has welcomed the challenge and made opposing teams pay when they decide to pitch around Anderson.  

    “I know they usually try to pitch around Blake (Anderson),” McKeithen said. “So when I get to the plate, I try to predict what the pitcher is going to throw and usually I can use logic to predict what the pitcher is going to throw and when, and not try to do much with and try to drive it the other way.”

    Lane and McKeithen, along with the rest of the Knights will attempt to bring a 13th state title back to Collinsville.

    “It’s easier to get to the top than to stay at the top,” Boatner said. “Everybody is always gunning for you, it just puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you to try and stay at the top and be No. 1, especially this season, when we’ve been ranked No. 1 for several weeks … but we’ve been able to handle it pretty good and hopefully we can prove that (high) ranking in the state championship series.”

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