Rising Neshoba Central senior Bailey Cook took the mound for District 4 in the bottom of the seventh and quickly recorded two outs.
District 4 had a 4-3 lead against District 8 in both teams’ opener in the State Games of Mississippi’s All-Star baseball tournament Tuesday afternoon. A win would allow District 4 to move ahead into the winner’s bracket and avoid facing elimination just two days into the tournament.
Cook momentarily lost the strike zone, however, walking the next two District 8 batters and putting the tying run in scoring position. Instead of buckling under the pressure, though, Cook induced a ground ball from the next batter, which third baseman Gray Berry scooped up and ran with over to third to get the force out.
District 4 secured the one-run win, and Cook said he knew the victory was secured the second the ball stayed on the ground.
“I had a lot of confidence in him to make that play,” Cook said. “I just knew if they got it on the ground or in the air, we were going to get them out.”
District 4 took an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first off an RBI double by Banks Hyde and a sacrifice fly by Berry, but District 8 cut the lead to 2-1 after scoring a run in the bottom of the frame. An RBI fielder’s choice by Jonah Caskey in the top of the second made it 3-1 District 4, and District 8 scored a run in the bottom of the third on a passed ball.
The score remained the same for the rest of the contest, and Cook said when he took the mound he was just trying to secure the win so it would put them in a good position for the rest of the week.
“If you don’t get that win (in the first game), a loss would send you home, so now we have a little room to work with,” Cook said.
Two more Neshoba Central pitchers saw action in Tuesday’s contest. Hayden Knight got the start for District 4 and pitched two innings, giving up an unearned run on one hit with one walk and one strikeout. Jacob Killens pitched the next inning, surrendering an unearned run with one walk and one strikeout.
Clay Sanders was the fourth Rockets player to make District 4’s roster, and he finished the game 1-for-2. All four of them are rising seniors.
“It’s nice to play in front of the scouts and get the opportunity for them to look at you,” Sanders said. “You just want to get yourself out there more for your upcoming senior season.”
Jordan Smith, head coach of District 4, said he was proud of his team’s pitching, defense and timely hitting and for his players maintaining their composure despite it being a close game.
“I told them to be themselves, to do their job and stay within themselves,” Smith said. “I told them not to try to do more than what they’re capable of, and when the kids know their role and identity, it frees them up to play the game without fear of failure.”
With the win, District 4 will play District 5 in the winner’s bracket game at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
DISTRICT 5 (10), DISTRICT 1 (0)
West Lauderdale’s Mason Willis pitched two scoreless innings in relief for District 5 as it won a run-rule shortened game against District 1 in both team’s State Games of Mississippi All-Star baseball opener.
Willis struck out two, walked two and hit one batter for District 5, and he also walked and scored a run at the plate. West Lauderdale teammate Tanner Parker finished 1-for-2 with a walk, two RBIs and one run scored.
District 5 will face District 4 in the winner’s bracket game at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.