Meridian Star

Sports

May 23, 2014

West Lauderdale ace brilliant as Knights win Game 1 of state title series

PEARL — PEARL — With Will Stokes on the mound, a 3-0 lead felt like 30-0.

The senior ace for West Lauderdale High School was once again brilliant when it mattered most, as Stokes relied on low-90s heat and a biting slider to shut down Purvis High School in Game 1 of the MHSAA Class 4A state title series Thursday.

Stokes fanned nine batters in West’s 3-0 win while allowing just three hits and two walks over the course of seven innings. Any nerves he might have had from pitching in Trustmark Park in a state title series didn’t show as Stokes mowed down the opposing lineup.

“It’s nerve-wracking sometimes, but you just have to battle through it,” Stokes said. “I felt pretty confident on the mound.”

Knights head coach Jerry Boatner said he also felt confident having Stokes out there, and Stokes’ performance proved why.

“Will Stokes was the way he’s been all year: overpowering,” Boatner said. “He threw strikes, and he probably walked one or two more guys than he normally does, but he had great stuff and stayed ahead in the count a majority of the time. I can’t say enough about how well he pitched and how well our defense played.”

When batters weren’t swinging at strike three, they were mostly putting the ball on the ground for the West infield to scoop up. Of the other 12 outs Purvis made, nine of them were ground ball outs.

“That was really important for him,” Boatner said. “They never did hit the ball hard enough to force any errors. He missed the sweet spot, and that’s what pitching is, missing the sweet spot.”

Stokes said relying on ground ball outs is just as important to his game as making hitters swing and miss.

“We work on throwing the ball low, hitting the bottom string and getting ground outs, and that’s what happened,” Stokes said.

Much of West’s offensive success Thursday centered around leadoff man Fred Franklin. Franklin finished 2-for-4 with a double — the game’s only extra-base hit — and he scored both times he reached base, one off an RBI single by Colton McKeithen in the first inning and another off a sacrifice fly by Blake Anderson in the fifth inning.

“Fred’s the key to our offense,” Boatner said. “If he gets on base, we can make things happen. He’s probably (among) the top three or four guys in the state as far as speed goes, and if he gets on base, we can steal him or run and bunt. We have so many options with him.”

In fact, bunting with Franklin on aided him in scoring both times he reached base. In each instance, two-hole hitter Daniel Hill was able to bunt him over to third — Franklin stole second after his first-inning single — getting him into position to score on McKeithen’s single and Anderson’s sacrifice fly. It was Boatner ball at its finest, and Franklin said he enjoys the small ball aspect of helping him come around to score.

“I love it a lot,” Franklin said. “I love the bunting, I love the atmosphere, and I love everything (about it).”

West scored its third and final run of the day when Ryan Lane, who finished the game 3-for-3, was driven in by No. 9 hitter McKain Ortlepp on an RBI single.

No one for Purvis has more than one hit. Starter Jacob Williams took the loss, surrendering three runs on 13 hits in six innings of work. He also struck out two.

Offensively, McKeithen finished the game 2-for-4, and Hill was 2-for-2 with two sacrifice bunts. Mason Wooldridge was 1-for-1 with two sacrifice bunts.

“I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get the big hit when we needed it, but we got 13 hits,” Boatner said of his offense. “Sometimes you get hits when you need them, sometimes you don’t.”

But with Stokes pitching, Franklin said scoring more would have simply been a luxury.

“It’s awesome (having Stokes pitch), because I know he’s going to throw strikes and do well for us and make us win,” Franklin said.

With the victory, West (32-2) is just one win away from a 13th state championship in baseball, which would be a state record. Stokes, who will man shortstop today as Lane takes the mound, said his team has to remain just as focused today as it was Thursday.

“You just have to battle hard like we did today, and we should come out on top,” Stokes said.

Game 2 in the best-of-three series is set to begin at 7 tonight.

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