The Meridian Star
Will Stokes struck out 11 batters and hit a home run, as West Lauderdale climbed out of an early deficit to beat Newton County 4-3 Tuesday night at Jerry Boatner Field.
The win improves West Lauderdale to 16-4 (9-0) on the season and moves the Knights one game ahead of the Cougars 15-6 (8-1) in the District 5 4A standings.
The Knights opened the game sloppy, as catcher Blake Anderson dropped strike three, allowing Newton County leadoff hitter Jacob Edwards to reach base. After a fielder's choice the next at bat, errors would haunt West again, when third baseman Mason Wooldridge let a ball get through his legs to put runners on first and second. Following a single by Newton County's Dan Nelson, Ty Alderman lifted a sacrifice fly to right with the bases loaded, and Cale Hollingsworth followed with an RBI single to right to give the Cougars an early 2-0 lead.
However, Stokes shook off the poor start a batter later, striking out opposing pitcher Will Brand to end the inning. In the bottom half of the inning Stokes would get the better of Brand again, lifting a ball over the wall in left to cut the Cougars' lead to 2-1.
“Will's the type, he's got a good mental toughness,” West Lauderdale head coach Jerry Boatner said. “He won't let a situation affect him. There are some people who will let that kind of situation bother them, but it doesn't bother Will at all.”
Stokes would heat up on the mound in more ways than one in the second inning, using a 93 mph fast ball to shut down the next nine Newton County batters. Stokes (7-0) pitched all seven innings for the Knights, allowing five hits and one earned run.
“I can't say enough about Will Stokes today,” Boatner said. “He was gritty. His arm hasn't been 100 percent all season, but he was awesome tonight.”
Boatner said the 93 mph pitch was the fastest he's ever seen the radar gun register at Jerry Boatner Field.
“The last few games I wasn't feeling that great,” Stokes said. “I came out here tonight an threw. I'm starting to feel it again. It feel pretty good, that's the fastest I've ever thrown.”
In the bottom of the third, Anderson made up for his first-inning error by smashing a two-run to left to give the Knights a 3-2 lead.
Reagen Warren tied the game for Newton County with a bases-loaded single with one out in the top of the fifth. However, Stokes was able to retire the next two Newton County batters, stranding the bases loaded and preserving the tie.
West would make the Cougars pay in the bottom of the inning, as Wooldridge executed a bases-loaded squeeze bunt with one out to score the eventual winning run for the Knights.
“We don't bunt with the bases loaded, because it's not good baseball,” Boatner said. “But, we had been having a hard time hitting that guy. Mason's a great bunter, and he's done a great job at it all year.”
West Lauderdale scored four runs off of Brand (6-1) on the night. The Newton County starter entered the game with only two earned runs allowed all season.
“I'm overwhelmed with how we hit the ball,” Boatner said. “We have not been hitting the ball real well lately. We put the ball in play better than I thought.”
The two teams will play again Friday at Newton County with the District 5 4A title on the line.
A win for West Lauderdale would ensure an 11th straight division championship, while Newton County will need to beat the Knights by more than one run to claim the title.
“I expect the same thing Friday,” Boatner said. “We have a lot of confidence in our No. 2 pitcher Ryan Lane, and hopefully he can get the job done.”