Chargers’ offense clicking down stretch

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, May 19, 2016

Chris Baughman knows what he’s going to get out of his top two arms, but Oxford’s baseball coach hasn’t always been as sure about the bats.

But the Chargers’ offense has given Jason Barber and Houston Roth plenty of support as of late.

A sub-.300-hitting team in the regular season, the Chargers have a collective .313 average in the playoffs. Oxford (27-8) has scored at least 10 runs three times in the postseason and has double-digit hits in four of its last six games, including 10 in a 5-3 win over Hattiesburg (26-8) on Tuesday that has the Chargers on the brink of a second straight MHSAA Class 5A championship.
Game 2 of the best-of-three title series is today at 4 p.m. at Trustmark Park in Pearl.

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Oxford handed Hattiesburg’s Dexter Jordan just his second loss of the season and could’ve pushed across more runs against the Tigers’ ace if not for some late baserunning miscues and the larger-than-usual dimensions of the minor-league park, which turned what could’ve been home runs on most high school fields into loud outs on a few swings.

“(Hattiesburg) ran the baseball down, and we knew they would,” Baughman said. “But I was real proud of us offensively of barreling up several balls. Made a couple of baserunning blunders we need to fix, being a little too aggressive at times and not being smart, but I’m real proud of the way we swung it at the plate.”

Oxford had seven games in the regular season where it finished with five hits or less, a product at times of the higher level of pitching it saw with a beefed-up schedule that featured some of the top teams locally and nationally. But the Chargers also went through stretches where they frustrated their coach by trying to do too much with lazy fly balls that often left runners stranded.

Oxford has gotten those baserunners home more times than not in its eight playoff games, outscoring its opponents 58-18 in the postseason. Roth (0.48 earned run average) and Barber (1.08) have started six of the Chargers’ seven playoff victories with Oxford winning all but two of them by at least three runs.

Roth will oppose Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray (5-0, 2.81 ERA) today.

Catcher Thomas Dillard (team-high .426 average), Barber (.337) and leadoff man Grae Kessinger (.318) have been the most consistent regulars at the plate, but Oxford has gotten recent contributions up and down the lineup. Drew Bianco has recorded multiple hits in four of his last six games to push his average above .300 for the season while nine-hole hitter Duncan Graeber is hitting .333 over his last three games.

The Chargers’ hottest bat may be that of senior outfielder Sage Mullins, who had two more hits Tuesday to raise his average to .384 out of the No. 7 spot since the playoffs started.

“Sage Mullins, for the last two weeks, has been what’s got us going,” Baughman said. “He was hot as a firecracker coming in, and he’s stayed that way.”