The Meridian Star
West Lauderdale pitcher Will Stokes was on fire Saturday night, and not even a 35-minute rain delay could put him out. The Knights' ace went six innings, striking out 16 batters to help West Lauderdale take Game 1 of the 4A South State semifinals 6-4 over St. Stanislaus.
Stokes struck out three batters in the top of the first before an abrupt rain shower halted the game in the bottom half of the inning. The Knights' bats would come out hot after the break, as Daniel Hill drew a bases-loaded walk with one out to put West Lauderdale on the board first. Two pitches later, Cole Gullette lifted a two-run double off the center-field wall to make the score 3-0.
Stokes would come back even stronger in the second inning, throwing four strikeouts after a batter reached on a third-strike wild pitch. The pitcher said the rain delay, though inconvenient, did not affect his arm on the mound.
“It didn't really bother me,” Stokes said. “At the beginning of the game I wasn't feeling too great, but then I started getting in the groove and things started getting better.”
After Blake Anderson belted a three-run home run over the wall in left to bust the game open at 6-0, that groove would continue for Stokes.
The junior fanned the first two batters in the top of the third inning before striking out a third two batters later to give him 10 K's through three innings.
“It's just a feeling when you can throw a strike when you need to,” Stokes said.
After throwing over 120 pitches on the mound, Stokes moved to shortstop in the seventh inning with West Lauderdale up 6-2, as Anderson switched from catcher to pitcher to close out the game. Anderson, however, could not establish control on the mound. The junior walked the bases loaded while only recording one out before handing the ball over to sophomore Reed Michael. Michael would then throw a wild pitch, followed by a single up the middle, as St. Stanislaus cut the lead to 6-4.
With the winning run at the plate, Michael got Noah Nicaud to ground out sharply to second baseman Kevin Lee Henson, who flipped the ball to Stokes to begin a game-ending 4-6-3 double play.
“I haven't seen anything like that lately,” West Lauderdale head coach Jerry Boatner said of Stoke's performance. “But, with as dominant as he was, we still only managed to win 6-4.
“We just weren't in sync. At the point when we got up 6-0, I thought the game was over. We let them hang around, and it almost cost us.”
Gullette led the Knights at the plate, going two-for-three with two RBIs and a stolen base on the night. Boatner said he his impressed with his No. 6 hitter and will need production from the bottom of his line up in order to remain successful in the playoffs.
“It's great, because we don't hit the ball very well,” Boatner said. “He's given us a big punch the last few games, and I'm real excited about that.”
West Lauderdale (22-7) will travel to St. Stanislaus on Tuesday. With a win, the Knights will advance to the 4A South State championship against Newton County.