Chargers sweep New Hope for 5A North Half title

Published 11:23 pm Saturday, May 13, 2017

By Jake Thompson

COLUMBUS — For the third time in as many years, Oxford will finish their season inside a minor league ballpark. The Chargers defeated New Hope 11-5 to sweep their Class 5A North Half series on Saturday night at Trojan Field on the campus of New Hope High School.

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The two-time reigning and defending Class 5A state champions will get a crack at title No. 3 starting Tuesday when they take on Pearl River Central, who defeated Hattiesburg in Game 3 of the South Half series Saturday night, at 7 p.m. in Game 1 of the MHSAA Class 5A state championship series at Trustmark Park in Pearl.

“We said we had nothing to lose tonight,” Oxford head coach Chris Baughman said. “Look around, we graduated two (Division 1) arms last year that carried us. Now, you look around and you’re like ‘who are they?’ …Nothing sweeter than beating New Hope for the North Half  championship at their place.”

The score may have been lop-sided in the end, but Oxford (31-5) and starting pitcher Tyler Smith had to get out of multiple jams to keep the Trojans at bay. Smith, who was a magician at times, navigated around New Hope loading the bases four times in the first four innings. Damage was held to a minimum with New Hope only plating two runs in the first three innings but added two more with the bases loaded in the fourth. Smith worked 3 2/3 innings, giving up four runs off six hits and striking out three batters but also hitting four.

“(New Hope) had every opportunity in the world and it seemed like we kept wiggling out of trouble,” Baughman said. “We made big pitches when we needed to and big plays when we needed to.”

The offense was in short supply for Oxford, who scored in all but two innings, including three runs in both the third and fifth frames. The Chargers got the night started early with a quick 2-0 lead in the top of the first before New Hope tied things up in the home half, then regained the lead for good with a run in the second off a RBI by second baseman Sam Bianco to score centerfielder Preston Perkins.

After plating six runs, New Hope starter Peyton Buckner’s day was over after two-plus innings of work. Oxford hit .500 (7-for-14) off Buckner and did not strike out while also getting two free passes.

Designated hitter Duncan Graeber reached base four times, including getting one due to an error by New Hope third baseman Parker Lane  in the second and third innings. Greaber’s biggest contribution on the night came in the fifith after New Hope closed the gap to 7-5, he hit a two-run home run to push the deficit back out to four runs. He also hit an RBI-single in the sixth.

“I had an injury and I came back and it’s my last go ‘round. So, I just decided I’m going to play ball,” Graeber said. “I knew I had a 2-0 count. I had a 2-0 count (Thursday) and they threw me a fastball and I wasn’t ready for it. I told myself today that if that came back I was going to be ready for it. Thankfully I put a good swing on it.”