Meridian Star

Sports

April 15, 2014

Hot start, Knights seek more

MERIDIAN —     The West Lauderdale High School baseball team gathered around coach Jerry Boatner prior to taking batting practice Monday afternoon, and listened with a keen interest as the legendary coach shared a few words of wisdom.

    Boatner's Knights (20-0, 8-0) square off against Houston High School (19-3, 8-0) Thursday in a pivotal matchup that could swing the upper hand in District 4-4A.

    "I just learned that Houston is undefeated and that makes me want this even more," Boatner said to his team.

    In his tenure as coach at WLHS, Boatner has only amassed as many consecutive wins once to start a season.

    The 1974 team — coincidentally, Boatner's inaugural year at West Lauderdale — the Knights began 21-0.

    "We've got a bunch of senior players," Boatner said. "They've been through the battles before. We have five players that have been starting since the 10th grade. So we are really experienced, and they are all really good players."

    Several of the players attributed this season's success to the longevity of having played together for a number of years.

    "We're really close," said senior catcher Blake Anderson, who is a Southern Mississippi signee. "We hang out together on the weekends and spend a lot of time together."

    Added senior shortstop/pitcher and Ole Miss signee Will Stokes, "We've all been playing ball together since we were little."

    Due in part to that camaraderie, the Knights have managed to win their games by an average of just over eight runs per contest.

    "You want to be able to be tested in close ball games," Boatner said. "We've been tested plenty of times before, but this season we haven't been tested as much."

    Despite the torrid start, Boatner pointed out a number of different areas in which the Knights are concentrating on getting better.

    "We're focusing on trying to eliminate the pressure," he said. "We're trying to make sure we can play small ball. The games in the state tournament are going to be a lot closer. It's the teams that can field a bunt, hit-and-run and prevent the stolen base that typically wins."

    While winning the district is the primary goal, the Knights have their sights set on claiming a 13th state title.

    "That's our goal every year," Boatner said. "And if we don't play for a state title, then we've had a terrible year."

    WLHS fell short last season after losing to St. Stanislaus in the state quarterfinals.

"We should have played for the state championship last year," Boatner said. "But our No. 2 pitcher (Ryan Lane) got injured and that really hurt us."

    With four combined wins over 2013 semifinal and state final representatives — Kosciusko High School and Newton County High School — the Knights are primed for another deep run in the playoffs.

    "We're very confident," Boatner said. "Our boys are starting to hit the ball a lot better, and we've got great pitching and catching."

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