Oxford, Lafayette attempt to clinch playoff berths against region opponents

Published 1:29 pm Thursday, March 30, 2023

It will be a big night on the diamond Thursday as Oxford and Lafayette each host district opponents with a chance to lock up playoff spots early in region play.

The Chargers (13-6, 4-0 Region 1-6A) enter Thursday night’s contest on a five-game winning streak after defeating the Yellowjackets on the road Tuesday following a sweep of Grenada to open region play.

Catcher Campbell Smithwick and shortstop Reid Kent have wreaked havoc on opposing pitching staffs throughout the season, posting averages of .510 and .460 respectively.

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Smithwick, a 2023 Ole Miss commit, leads the team in home runs (3), walks (18), runs scored (28) and OPS (1.571) while Kent has posted team-highs in hits (29), RBIs (32) and doubles (7).

The rest of the lineup has struggled to find consistency throughout the season, but has managed to do enough to keep Oxford in games with other high-powered offenses from across the state.

Their real weakness lies in the pitching staff, which was a real question mark coming into the season and continues to be an achilles heel.

Senior Vaiden Ellis is the undisputed ace for the Chargers, and has excelled in each of his nine appearances on the mound this season.

The 6-foot-5 righty has posted 2.22 ERA through 28.1 innings of work and has compiled a WHIP of 0.67 while striking out 35 batters.

The rest of the staff has not enjoyed the same level of success however.

Junior Jack Gaia boasts a team-best 1.24 ERA, but struggled with command in several of his appearances, surrendering eight hits and six walks in 11.1 innings.

Junior Brady Stinnett has failed to get into a rhythm on the mound as he continues to work his way back from an offseason surgery that kept him limited through the first few weeks of the season.

Sophomore Barrett Kamman has been a welcome surprise for the Oxford this year, posting a 3.23 ERA in a team-high 30.1 innings this season.

The Chargers will have a chance to lock up home-field advantage in the first round with a win over Starkville Thursday, but face a difficult task ahead of them next week with rival Tupelo coming to town.

They currently holds a one-game lead over the Golden Wave, who sit at 3-1 in region play with a pair of games against Grenada scheduled for this weekend.

Oxford will likely have enough offensive firepower to clinch their third straight region title, but they will need several key players to step up in order to make another extended playoff run.

Lafayette (10-7-1, 4-0 Region 2-5A) will be looking to wrap up a sweep of the Hornets after claiming both legs of a double-header on the road Tuesday.

The Commodores are riding a four-game winning streak following a tough stretch of games at the Battle at the Beach tournament over Spring Break.

The ‘Dores went 0-3-1 in the tournament, tying Northpoint Christian and falling to Petal, Jackson Prep and Ocean Springs.

They bounced back with a pair of wins over Lake Cormorant last week before exploding for 36 runs in Tuesday’s double-header.

Lafayette possesses one of the top pitching staffs at the 5A level, with a trio of  seniors who are bona-fide starters and at least one consistent reliever out of the bullpen.

Noah Robinson is in the midst of an impressive season on the mound, posting a 1.25 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP in 28 innings while recording 37 strikeouts.

The right-handed ace is confounding opponents with a devastating fastball-changeup combo that leaves opposing hitters whiffing at air more often than not.

Radley Hill has also pitched well this season with an ERA of 2.33 through 24 innings of work.

His 15-2 strikeout to walk ratio is one of the highest in the state, and he will likely be asked to eat up even more innings in the playoffs once the ‘Dores shorten their staff.

Everett Thompson makes up the third prong of Lafayette’s three-headed pitching attack, posting a 3.32 ERA through 19 innings on the mound.

The two-way outfielder has surrendered more runs this season than either of his fellow seniors, but his strikeout rate is on par with other team leaders and he has a proven track record of success in big games.

Out of the bullpen, Lafayette will likely turn to junior Aleck Farmer to eat up the majority of innings moving forward after establishing himself as the go-to arm in relief.

Farmer has recorded a team-best 1.14 ERA in 12.1 innings this season, but has struggled with control at times is yet to demonstrate an ability to consistently get outs in big situations.

The Commodores can also turn to juniors Jack Wyatt East and Nick Kagey, who have struggled to gets outs consistently but are capable of eating up innings when called upon.

The ‘Dores should have more than enough pitching to make an extended run in the playoffs, but they will need to find more consistent ways to score if they want any hope of making it back to the state title game for the first time since 2019.

Third baseman Brody Breithaupt has raked for Lafayette in recent weeks, raising his season average to .479 as he continues to strike fear in opposing pitching staffs.

The junior leads the team in nearly every major statistical category, including hits (23), runs scored (16), RBIs (14) and OPS (1.108).

The rest of the lineup has been a work-in-progress for most of the season as head coach John Walker continues to plug and play different lineups in order to find the winning combination.

Fifteen different Commodores have registered at least 10 at-bats this season, with 10 different players recording at least 30 plate appearances.

Four of the 10 players with at least 30 plate appearances boast batting averages north of .300, but the ‘Dores have struggled to advance runners once they reach base and often rely on defensive miscues to push runs across.

That inability to find steady offensive production has yet to cost Lafayette in region play, but the Commodores will need to find ways to consistently push runs across if they want any hope at making a long playoff run.

The ‘Dores will look to remain undefeated in region play and clinch home-field advantage in the first round when they take on Greenville at 7 p.m. tonight.