Toppers close season in NEMCABB tourney
Houston falls just short of the goal
By Tim Tutor and Lisa Voyles
NEW ALBANY – The Houston Hilltoppers swung their bats all the way through June on the baseball diamond but closed out the season in the Northeast Mississippi Coaches Association for Better Baseball tournament in New Albany.
The Hilltoppers cruised through the regional seeding tournament in Calhoun City, scoring wins over Bruce, South Pontotoc and Calhoun City, but ran into some stiffer competition when they reached the single-elimination tournament June 25. The Toppers took a 7-5 win over Saltillo to set up game two against Pontotoc.
And that’s when things started heading in the wrong direction.
Starting pitcher Austin Burdine got in a hole, allowing three runs in the first inning and the Toppers started their battle back in the second as Grady Nabors roped a leadoff single to centerfield and stole second on a Pontotoc throwing error by pitcher Rayn Watts. Justin Kimbrough took a walk to first and Nabors swiped third and scored on Garrison Howell’s infield groundout. Kimbrough stole third on a wild pitch but was stranded there at the close of the frame.
The Toppers added another run in the third as Hunter Moore drew a leadoff walk and Denver McQuary ripped a single to right field. Moore was thrown out at third but McQuary advanced to second on the play. Burdine walked and Nabors reached on a Pontotoc fielding error to score McQuary and put the Toppers within one run, but the Warriors broke the game open in the fourth.
Pontotoc tallied just one hit in the inning, but took advantage of three walks and two Hilltopper errors to score six runs in the inning and hold the lead for an 8-2 win.
Burdine threw 73 pitches, 40 for strikes in the effort. McQuary worked the final two innings throwing 14 pitches, seven for strikes.
Although the Toppers didn’t advance quite as far as they had hoped in the tournament, oach Scott Gann felt the summer season was extremely productive.
“This summer was all about experience,” Gann said. “After graduating six starters, we are looking to fill in some huge gaps. But I feel like we were able to see lots of younger guys in some of those positions and they seem to have stepped up. They realize the difference in the jump from playing those JV games to the varsity level.”
The Hilltoppers finished up the regular season at 25-7-1 in the third round of MSHAA playoffs and Gann knows next spring’s schedule will be just as tough.
“We dropped Louisville who didn’t make the playoffs and picked up West Lauderdale who probably owns more baseball state titles than anybody else,” Gann said. “The guys know that though. The run we had…I think the boys will use that as motivation each day. It seems like a long time until next March, but we’ll begin working towards that time as soon as school starts back. It will be here before we know it.”