Offense carries Devils to second round
WATER VALLEY — Game 3 of the first round of the MHSAA Class 3A playoff series between the Blue Devils of Water Valley and the Blue Devils of Booneville on Monday started off with some fireworks. Water Valley eventually won 10-7.
A leadoff single from Gavin Darby, combined with a double from Donovan Gaston led to three runs in favor of Water Valley, giving the home Devils an early 3-0 lead. That lead would not last long as Booneville responded with three runs of its own, tying up the game going into the second inning.
Fielding errors on the side of Booneville led to two more runs being scored by Water Valley, putting Water Valley up 5-3. Water Valley coach Kary Bridges made the decision to pull his starting pitcher, eighth-grader Blayne Clark, after he let up a few runs early in the game. Bridges was pleased with the experience that Clark is getting by playing in these tough Game 3 situations.
“He’s thrown well all year, and that was just his second start,” Bridges said. “It’s hard starting in that situation. It’s good to get that type of experience and still come out with a win.”
After pitching changes for both teams, the scoring was halted. Water Valley pitcher Austin Smith started off by forcing three outs off of three consecutive grounders. Unfortunately for Water Valley, the Blue Devils were unable to capitalize on the lack of scoring from Booneville, but the bottom of the fifth inning changed that.
Water Valley scored another two runs with Gaston driving in another run. Gaston would finish with four RBIs on the day. The Water Valley defense stepped up later in the game by holding Booneville scoreless through three innings before a four-run sixth inning would give Water Valley a four-run cushion heading into the top of the seventh.
With Cooper Clement on the mound and striking out his first batter, Water Valley seemed to have cemented a first-round playoff series win. That was before Joseph Williford stepped up to bat and hit a solo shot clear over the fence, bringing Booneville within three of Water Valley. Cooper regained his composure and managed to force the next batter into a pop fly to the right fielder. Water Valley could taste victory, and Clement struck out the last batter on four pitches, giving Water Valley the victory.
‘Make the next play’
Bridges also gave praise to the opponent, which would fight until the very last inning.
“We beat them earlier in the year and they have gotten a lot better. Booneville played awesome,” Bridges said. “They came out swinging and with nothing to lose. I told my guys earlier that this was not the team we beat earlier in the year. This was a good team and a great win. We had some miscues, but these are high school kids, and when there is no tomorrow, the nerves will get you. Overall we responded well after errors, and that is what we tell them. Make the next play.”
Water Valley will play Nettleton in the second round starting Friday. The game times are still to be announced, although Water Valley will be starting off the round at home.
When asked about preparation for the upcoming opponent, Bridges believes keeping the focus on Water Valley and his team is the best strategy.
“We have won 23 games, and we are just going to keep doing what we do,” he said.
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