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Oxford baseball outlasts West Point in marathon regular-season finale

The reigning kings of Class 5A baseball put the final touches on the regular season and preparations to begin defense of their second consecutive state championship, but not before having to put in a little more work than anticipated on Senior Night. Oxford defeated West Point 17-11 in what became a marathon final game of the regular season at Edwin Moak Field on Tuesday night. The Chargers (24-4), who clinched the No. 1 seed out of Region 2-5A last week, finished 8-1 in region play.

After sitting through a 50-minute weather delay that interrupted the bottom of the first inning, Oxford continued where it left off before the rain arrived. Before the delay, the Chargers took a 3-0 lead thanks to two solo home runs from shortstop Drew Bianco and a returning Duncan Graeber from the disabled list.

The runs continued to come in bunches after the tarp was removed with Oxford scoring six runs in the second inning and one run in the third to make it 13-1. The six runs in the home half of the second frame came off two hits, three of West Point’s seven errors and six stolen bases. Designated hitter Carson Stinnett hit the Chargers’ third home run of the game with a two-run home run over the left-field wall in the second.

“We swung it really, really well tonight,” Oxford head coach Chris Baughman said. “We got to play seven innings and Ben (Bianco) got out of his slump a little.”

After West Point got within three runs in the sixth inning, Oxford scored four in the sixth, including Ben Bianco’s two-run home run, for the winning margin.

Back in the fold

Graeber rejoined the Oxford lineup after being out of action for more than a month. The senior second baseman broke the middle finger on his left hand during the Chargers’ game against Water Valley during their Spring Break tournament on March 15. Graeber only had the one at-bat to lead off the home half of the first inning before being lifted for freshman Sam Bianco. Graeber returned to the field to pitch the top of the fifth inning. With Oxford up by more than 10 runs, only three outs were needed to end the game. Graeber struggled in his first time back on the mound in more than a month and West Point took advantage, scoring six runs to make it 13-7.

“We shouldn’t have walked nine guys from the fifth inning on,” Baughman said. “Other than the walks, I have no complaints. … I thought being up 12, that would give us a two-run cushion and tried to get (Graeber) back in a little bit. Probably should have kept Bo (Gatlin) in because he was rolling like Bo’s done all year.”

Much-needed rest

It will be 10 days between games for Oxford as they earned a bye into the second round of the playoffs by earning the division regular-season crown and will await the winner of the Ridgeland-Canton first-round series this weekend. The Chargers will try to play Tupelo over the weekend barring bad weather and will have a simulated scrimmage the first of next week to keep the players in some form of a routine.