COLUMN: A smile had to have broken across Richy Harrelson’s face when he heard the news that the Lafayette Commodores defeated the Kosciusko Whippets 2-1 in the decisive game of a best-of-three Class 4A playoff series on Saturday.
The way the Commodores played in the final game would have made their former coach proud. As well as it would have Kevin Parker. And Jake Mills. And Hunter Mize and all the rest of those rowdy roughnecks who used to wear the Lafayette Red and Gold.
Grit and fire were the two missing components the Commodores had to gain before they could become a championship caliber team and program that is now considered one of the best in the state. Those former players and coach laid the foundation for Saturday’s dramatic win, one that may have set the tone for another great run yet to come.
This year’s heroes have similar last names and similar traits to that 2006 team. Tyler Mize, the younger brother of Hunter Mize, did a tremendous job behind the plate in the doubleheader and made the final out by diving to tag out a Whippet runner at home who was trying to score from third on a ball in the dirt. Mize’s hustle is very reminiscent of what his brother used to provide the team during his storied career and if he keeps it up, he’ll be remembered just as much as Hunter, who went on to become the EAGLE Player of the Year his senior season.
Josh Mills earned the win on the mound for LHS Saturday and did it by locking down a hot Whippet offense that had scored nine runs in the previous game. He may not have the juice on his pitches like a Parker or Justin Woodall had, but he competes just as hard, or harder, than both of them. On Saturday, he strapped on the gun belt and showed he was up to the task of shooting the Commodores out of trouble and living up the No. 9 he wears on his back in honor of Jake Mills.
“He pitched a great ballgame. He pitched one of the best ballgames we’ve had all year and that’s what you got to do in the playoffs. You got to come up big and he did a great job,” Mize said of Mills’ performance.
The transformation into a starting pitcher has been a work in progress for Mills, who has been ready to show his stuff all year, LHS coach Greg Lewis said.
“He got mad at us during the middle part of the year. He said ‘why do I always have to go to the bullpen and you’re never going to pitch me?’ Well, here it is, that’s the reason you’re going down to the bullpen,” Lewis said of his senior who limited KHS to just four hits and no earned runs. “Mills had an unbelievable slider tonight, especially for a guy we just brought in. When he threw at Grenada last week, we felt a little bit better about him as a pitcher. He’s that other guy that we need. Mills has been lights out the last two games.”
Saturday’s win should serve as an inspiration to the Commodores the rest of the playoffs. No matter who they play, they’re going to be a tough out because they make the game a bloody street fight almost every time they hit the field. If North Pontotoc does beat the Commodores, the Vikings will have to take their breath away and maintain it. Anything less than that will likely mean a win for LHS, who seem to have no problem eating their share of barbed wire and then asking for seconds.
“I told the guys before the second game to play a little bit harder than them, get a little dirtier than them, play rough the whole time like you usually are,” Lewis said. “Usually when we come back on teams, it’s with our hitting. This time we did it a different way. To me that’s what helps.”
For Dylan Gossett, who scored Lafayette’s only two runs on the day with a two-run home run, the victory was all about desire.
“Our bats didn’t come through today, but (win) shows us that we can fight and that we have three guys that can throw strikes. It shows everybody that we can win the third ballgame,” Gossett said. “We have three guys that are going to throw it and we play good defense. Our top nine will go up against anybody. We had a great game tonight and their pitcher made one mistake.”
One mistake is too many when a team is playing the Commodores, who are starting to look more and more like the bunch that won it all in 2006. (April 25, 2011, Page 2B)