Season didn't end as Jackets wanted
Starkville High School baseball coach Danny Carlisle, left, has a conversation with pitcher Nathan Pugh during the season. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
The Starkville Yellowjackets may not have had that one dominant pitcher or one dominant hitter to carry the team this past baseball season.
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One thing that SHS baseball coach Danny Carlisle said his squad did have was the heart and determination despite facing tough situations.
Even though the Jackets finished the season with records of 9-12 overall and 2-7 in Class 6A, Region 2, Carlisle found a reason to commend them.
"We didn't like the way it turned out, but one thing about these guys was they never quit," Carlisle said. "They fought hard the whole way through a lot of adversity. I'm extremely proud of them for that."
Starkville had an opportunity to make the Class 6A playoffs up until the last game of the regular season Tuesday, but dropped a heart-breaking 14-13 decision at South Panola.
The Jackets held a 13-6 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh inning only to see the home-standing Tigers score eight runs to snatch the victory away.
It was unlike anything Carlisle had ever experienced in his 27 years as Starkville's head coach.
"It ended on a sour note for everybody, not being able to throw strikes at the end," Carlisle said. "It wasn't just one person. It was everybody. Very rarely do you see where everybody you put in the game struggles. (Usually) somebody is going to have a good day, but it didn't happen for us (Tuesday).
"Sometimes things like that happen in baseball, but it's the first time it has ever happened to me personally as a coach. I've seen it happen to other people and wonder how does this happen, but now I know."
As difficult as Tuesday's result was to take for Carlisle and the Jackets, he can also look back as the times the squad played well and showed its potential.
Down the stretch of the season, Starkville won three out of four games, including victories against division opponents Columbus and South Panola. The Jackets defeated Pearl and had Gulfport on the ropes before losing.
Carlisle said everything seemed to be clicking at that time for SHS with its hitting, pitching and defense.
After dropping a decision at home to Tupelo, the Jackets bounced back to defeat Meridian on the road 2-1 on a day when sophomore Max Bartlett came in from shortstop and pitched well.
"He did an outstanding job and we played good defense behind him," Carlisle said.
Carlisle said Starkville was confident going to South Panola Tuesday and went to play seven innings, but ended up only playing 6 1/2.
As usual when the season ends abruptly for a team, the seniors are left to wonder what might have been.
Lee Peeples, Blake Harrell, Blake Dawkins, Garrett Smith, Garrett Batson, Jaquez Johnson and Wesley Montgomery put the SHS jersey on for the last time Tuesday night.
"I'm going to miss each and every one of them," Carlisle said. "Each had their own unique thing about them that made them who they are. Most of them have grown, made life-long friends and they've accomplished some good things in baseball. Some of them will be continuing their baseball and some of them will continue other things. All of them will continue in education which is the bottom line. These young men will do well in whatever they choose."
For a team that generated 18 runs on 19 hits in the late-season victory against Pearl, it is the hope that will carry over to next season for the players that return.
While reflecting back, Carlisle saw only one senior on the field that day.
Nathan Pugh, a junior infielder and pitcher, hit .400 for Starkville and led the squad in hits (26) and runs scored (14). Jordan Allgood, a junior infielder, and Hayden Higginbotham, a junior infielder-catcher-pitcher, paced the Jackets with 11 runs batted in each. Higginbotham hit a pair of home runs and five doubles.
In the pitching department, Bartlett had an 1.47 earned run average in 19 innings pitched.
Carlisle also appreciates the work of his staff and looks forward to their continued help as the Jackets move forward. The assistants are former players Ronald Campbell and Carlos Kemp, along with pitching coach Charlie Smith, who has been a head coach at Louisville, Hatley and Aberdeen.
"You feel very fortunate to have Charlie Smith, who has a wealth of knowledge," Carlisle said. "You bring in Ronald and Carlos who buy into the system because they were a part of the system."
As for Carlisle, he expects to keep coaching the program he took over from Sammy Henderson in 1984 and immediately achieved a 24-10 mark in his first year.
"I'd like to work here a few more years because I still really enjoy what I do," Carlisle said. "If you feel like you can make a difference in one kid's life, then you've been successful that year. I've made some good friends in the community and parents that I wouldn't have had if I weren't here. When a senior boy walks off the field, puts his arm around you and says I love you coach, that makes it worth while."