Lafayette and Saltillo set for rematch in 5A North Half series
Two years ago Lafayette baseball punched their ticket to the MHSAA Class 5A state championship series by defeating Saltillo and if they want to return to Pearl for a second straight time, they must do so again.
The Region 1-5A rivals meet this week with the 5A North Half championship on the line in a rematch of the 2019 North Half series.
For Lafayette, it is an opportunity to get another shot at a state championship after the COVID-19 pandemic took their chance away last March. The Commodores were a win away from winning it all in 2019 and had a roster full of experience that many viewed as the team to beat in 2020.
“We all felt like 2020 was the year for us,” said Lafayette head coach John Walker. “The combination of a pretty lengthy line up and the arms that pretty much have carried us this year, we felt like 2020 was going to be a good year for us. To lose some of that length in the line up and some of that, I guess, thump and thunder and have to replace it with in every essence 10th-graders who didn’t play a ninth-grade baseball season. To play the schedule we played and to be sitting here playing for another North Half title is pretty special.”
The Commodores and Tigers are no strangers to one another, with Saltillo taking the season series 2-1. A Saltillo loss to Lake Cormorant during the final week of region play allowed Lafayette to clinch the Region 1-5A title, giving them home field advantage this week.
Roles are reversed this year from when the two teams met in 2019 during the semifinal round. Two years ago, Lafayette had the experienced bats and the young arms. This year, Saltillo is the one with the experienced lineup while the the Commodores have the experienced arms in Blake Loper and Wilson Varner.
The duo of Loper and Varner have been the key strength for the Commodores and their success this season, getting them two wins away from another state championship berth.
“Blake has really come on with his off-speed stuff which made a big difference for him,” Walker said. “Of course he’s been good all year. The only game that we lost that he started was game three at Oxford. He’s handled every assignment that we’ve given him and here lately is commanding the zone and controlling his pitch count a little more. …Wilson Varner is a strike-throwing machine. Both of them have been remarkable.”
Lafayette and Saltillo will begin their North Half series on Thursday at W.V Brewer Field for Game 1. The series will shift to Saltillo on Friday and, if necessary, the deciding third game will be back at Lafayette on Saturday. Thursday and Friday’s games will begin at 7 p.m. and Saturday’s game time has not been set.
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