Tigers closing in on another state titlePublished 12:01am Sunday, May 6, 2012
Repeating as champions is never an easy task.
After winning it all, it’s not uncommon for complacency to set in. With players who have already been at the top, sometimes it’s harder to motivate those players when they’ve already tasted the ultimate prize.
So far this season, the Centreville Academy baseball team hasn’t seemed to face that problem. Now 25-5, the Tigers are just two wins away from their second-consecutive MAIS Class AA state championship.
Centreville won two in a best-of-three series against rival Brookhaven Academy, which the Tigers lost to in the South State series two seasons ago. After taking Game 1 at home Monday, the Tigers faced an elimination game when the Cougars won 7-3 in Game 2.
Getting that Game 3 win Thursday night was no easy task. The Tigers managed just one run when J.M. McDowell took off from third while the Cougars caught Centreville’s Gage Chandler in a rundown between first and second in the top of the fourth inning. Chandler was out, but McDowell beat the throw at home plate.
From that point forward, the game was in the hands of Centreville’s two aces, Cliff Hurst and Hunter Devall, and the Tigers defense. After taking the loss in Game 2, Hurst took the mound again to start Game 3, pitching three innings and holding the Cougars to no runs.
Devall replaced Hurst in the top of the fourth, pitching four scoreless innings to get the save. After committing four errors in Game 2, the Centreville defense had just one error in Game 3.
Tigers head coach Jason Horne said he was on edge all night, and for good reason. The Cougars could have tied the third game with one swing of the bat. But Centreville didn’t let it happen.
It’s that kind of play that separates championship teams from all of the rest. They find ways to win, whether it’s the offense stepping up, the defense stepping up or the pitching stepping up.
In Game 3, it was the defense and the pitching. The low-scoring nature of the game forced the Tigers to essentially walk a tightrope the entire seven innings. But Hurst, Devall and the defense realized it was just that kind of night, and they preserved the lead and got the win.
On championship teams, if the defense or pitching lets up, the offense finds a way to win. If the game is low-scoring, the pitching and defense finds a way to win. It doesn’t matter how it happens, as long as the team’s still left standing after a playoff series.
Centreville hasn’t won the 2012 state title yet. The Tigers will face a formidable Marshall Academy team at home next Tuesday and on the road next Friday. But if Centreville can keep doing what its been doing — finding ways to win — the Tigers will again be calling themselves champions.
I’m sure Horne would prefer a less nerve-wracking series than what he endured during Game 3 Thursday night. But if his Tigers win it all, I doubt he’ll mind the short-term edginess.
Michael Kerekes is the sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3632 or firstname.lastname@example.org.