Hernando baseball coach David Lara felt disappointment in his Tigers not being able to advance into the MHSAA 6A state championship series this week, but believes the Tigers have the tools to make a strong run past the North Half finals next season.
This year’s run toward a championship appearance quickly ground to a halt Saturday night in Hernando when Tupelo finished off the Tigers 8-0 to complete a two-game sweep of a best-of-three series. The Golden Wave built their lead on scoring runs in each of the first four innings while holding the Tigers just two base hits and taking advantage of three Hernando errors.
Tupelo had opened the series with a 7-0 whitewashing Thursday night at Tupelo. Game two was moved to Saturday with wet weather concerns forcing a postponement.
“I really thought we would do better than we showed,” Lara said following the game. “They’ve shut us out four times this season, so they know how to pitch to us. At this point you’re playing great teams and we beat three good teams to get to this point right here.”
Hernando had eliminated Olive Branch, Madison Central and Clinton to reach the North Half final series. Tupelo had advanced past Warren Central and DeSoto Central.
Lara pointed out the Tigers were the number-three seed entering the playoffs and, “it doesn’t happen a whole lot that the number-three seed plays for the North Half championship, so that’s a good mark on this team of coming back really hard and trying to make a great season.”
Senior Hunter Riggins got the start on the mound Saturday for Hernando, but a three-run first inning, which featured a two-run homer by Tupelo’s Peter Gray, quickly put the Tigers behind, a lead Hernando was never able to recover from.
While Hernando couldn’t muster any offense against Wave pitcher Charlie Greer, who struck out 10 batters, Tupelo added single runs in the second and third, then put three more on the board in the fourth, punctuated by another two-run homer, this time from Josh Smith.
“Riggins has been solid all year, but Tupelo came in and had a good game plan against him and just did what they needed to do to put the ball in play,” Lara said. “They hit two out tonight and those two-run homers gave them four runs right there. That’s tough to overcome.”
Sophomore Connor Spencer was called on to wrap things up on the mound for Hernando and he kept the Wave off the scoreboard.
“Spencer is a sophomore and he’s going to do some big things for us,” Lara said. “We relied on him a good bit this year and he’s closed a lot of games. He would have been our game three starter. He threw strikes and did an excellent job when he came in.”
Lara said the series marked the fourth time in eight seasons for Tigers to reach the North Half finals and he expects his team to be back there again very soon.
“We had a young group this year and they grew up a lot and played through some adversity,” Lara said. “We lose four great seniors, Will Ross, Robert Wilcke, Hunter Riggins and Reed Gordon, but we’ve got a lot of guys that have a lot of experience coming back.”
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.