Wave ends it on play at plate

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 31, 2004

PONTOTOC &045; There’s not much poetry and prose on a drive to Pontotoc.

There are, of course, Jackson and stately Oxford, but after those two staples all one’s left with are beaucoup mile markers and exit signs, uninhabited billboards, John Grisham’s ponderosa and undulating highways.

It seemed as unlikely a place for Cathedral to discover a MHSAA Class 1A state championship. But destiny has never bothered with the small stuff.

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As the setting sun painted the translucent clouds cotton candy, the Green Wave found gold with a 7-4 Game 2 victory against a gutsy Houlka squad at Ponototoc City Park Tuesday.

&uot;It might be tonight, it might be in the morning, but I know it feels great right now,&uot; said senior Te Riley, who came on in the seventh to pick up his first save of the season a night after throwing 118 pitches in a 5-1 win at Chester Willis Field. &uot;As hard as we have worked, we deserve this moment.&uot;

The triumph marks the third baseball title in school history and the first under second-year head coach Craig Beesley, who played for a state title as a member of the Green Wave in 1988.

Sophomore starter Corey Walker (10-1) got an out in the seventh before Beesley opted for senior Garrett Jones to close the deal.

However, Jones was only able to retire Wildcat leadoff hitter Brett Hood before he walked James Park to load the bases, prompting Beesley to look to Riley for the game’s final out.

&uot;(Walker’s) a battler. He gave me all he had,&uot; Beesley said. &uot;They had the (Nos.) 7, 8, 9 coming up, and the top of the order had hit him well. I wanted Garrett to close it out, but Te wanted it and he’s been my main man all season.&uot;

A juiced Riley took his warmups, settled himself (or so it seem) and delivered his first pitch to Chris Huggins, the Wildcats’ most dangerous hitter.

His offering squirted to the left of Cathedral catcher Drew Burns, who ripped his mask off desperate to find the wandering ball. Houlka head coach Jimbo Byars sent Greg Naugle toward the plate while Riley exploded off the mound to cover the dish, as the play appeared to unfurl in slow-motion.

&uot;I saw it kick away, and I knew it was going to be a close play,&uot; Riley said. &uot;I got to the plate, Drew slipped it in there with a perfect throw and I put my body between (Naugle) and the plate and held onto the ball.&uot;

The home-plate umpire paid close attention to Riley’s glove where the ball lay wedged before punching Naugle out to end the contest and begin the Green Wave crest on the infield grass.

&uot;I probably shouldn’t have sent him,&uot; Byars said. &uot;I guess the ball didn’t get far enough away from the catcher, and they did a good job making the play.&uot;

Cathedral looked possessed in the early going, collecting four runs on three hits in the game’s first at-bat to spot Walker a cushy lead before he threw his first pitch.

Michael Blain, the Wave’s only multiple hitter, singled to left and moved to second on a wild pitch from Houlka starter Mark Stevens (4-4). Jeremy Davis delivered a one-out, RBI double that drew chalk in left to plate Blain.

Davis scored after Stevens walked designated hitter Charlie Lane with the bases loaded before giving up the big blow, a two-run double from Preston Hicks.

&uot;I thought we set the tempo. We could’ve swung the bats better,&uot; Beesley said. &uot;We kind of laid down after we got up 4-0. We got too aggressive there in the third inning, and that was my fault. I should’ve been more patient with them at the plate.&uot;

After allowing the first two Wildcats to reach base, Walker was magical, retiring eight in a row at one point before Houlka began to rally in the bottom of the fourth.

A Stevens single made it 5-1, but a batter later Cathedral dodged a bullet thanks to a Blain-to-Jones-to-Riley double play for the inning’s first outs.

A run did score, however, slicing the Wave lead to three.

&uot;I’m proud of the guys, they never gave up and kept battling,&uot; Byars said. &uot;We gave it our best shot.&uot;

In the sixth, Blain picked up his second hit and first RBI with a single to center to score Hicks, who began the inning with a leadoff walk.

Jones followed with a sacrifice fly to right, plating pinch runner Nick Anderson &045; in for Burns &045; and the Wave had their five-run lead back, 7-2.

&uot;We’ve been working for this all year,&uot; said Jones, who had two RBIs and made outstanding plays in the field throughout. &uot;In past years we’ve fallen short, but we did it this year. We came ready to play. We knew it was going to be one of the last games of the year. We had to step up.&uot;

It’s the third state championship in school history for Cathedral. The Green Wave won it all back in 1982 and claimed the title again in 1995.