• 73°

BA Cougars claim AA state championship

Brookhaven Academy seniors Brent Henderson and Tripp Jolly madeThursday a night to remember. Henderson slugged a 2-run, sixthinning homer and Jolly twirled an 8-strikeout, 4-hitter, directingthe host BA Cougars to a 4-1 victory over Hillcrest Christian inthe MAIS Class AA State Championship.

For the BA Cougars (29-8), it was their first state title inbaseball since 1984, ending a 26-year famine. It capped aremarkable school year for the athletic program as BA capturedstate titles in football, boys basketball, boys tennis andbaseball.

Jolly was near the bottom of the pile on the pitcher’s mound ashis teammates celebrated after a game-ending double play. He hadstarred as a wide receiver and defensive back on BA’s statechampionship football team. He has signed a scholarship withBelhaven University.

“This was a perfect ending to my senior year,” said Jolly. “Ihad some good support behind me. It made my job easy.”

Jolly didn’t walk a batter and kept Hillcrest off balance with amixture of pitches. He hit one batter and gave up a solo homer toJames Adams in the second that tied the scoreboard at 1-1.

“Jolly mixed his pitches well and stayed around the plate,” saidHillcrest coach Shane Kelly. “He stayed ahead in the count.”

Kelly’s team (23-11) had won three straight AAA statechampionships in 2006-08 and were runners-up last year to MagnoliaHeights before joining the AA classification. “We hit the ball hardbut we couldn’t find the hole. We had good pitching and played gooddefense.”

Henderson saved his heroics for the sixth inning. He struck outhis first at-bat and then drew back-to-back walks fromhard-throwing Austin Hartzog, an Ole Miss signee. In the sixth,Henderson greeted relief pitcher Caleb Baucum with a blast over theright-center field fence, scoring Donovan Lorraine who had drawn aleadoff walk.

“I was due,” said Henderson. “Coach (Casey Edwards) said, ‘Ithought you were overdue.'”

Asked about the pitch, Henderson said, “It was a curveball. WhenI saw the ump give the sign, I knew it was gone.”

Hartzog, a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder with a fastball in the high80s, labored on the mound in the humid, 85-degree weather. Hewalked seven batters and struck out four, allowing two runs on fourhits. He hit one batter.

In the fourth, BA broke the 1-1 deadlock. After two batters hadbeen retired, Will Lucas drew a walk. Henderson also drew a base onballs, setting the stage for Bubba Keene’s RBI smash over thesecond base bag, giving his team a 2-1 advantage. Keene finishedwith two hits.

Edwards, a Franklin County native, was hired at BA last springafter three years as an assistant at Clinton. He was swarmed bywell-wishers and parents after the game as players took turnsposing for pictures with their mentor.

“(Edwards) made practice fun this year,” said Jolly. “He’s agreat coach.”

Recalling the pregame scene in the BA baseball field house,Edwards said, “The mood in the locker room wasn’t very energeticand that worried me. But I figured it was a focused mood. The kidswere focused on hitting Hartzog. We jumped on him.”

Edwards said he was joking about his senior pitcher in thelocker room. “I told our guys that Tripp was going to walk thefirst five batters and then we would win the game. He didn’t walkanybody and he just nicked one batter.”

Asked about Henderson’s clutch homer, Edwards said, “Brent killsthe ball in practice but he gets impatient at bat sometimes. He wasdue for a hard hit.”

BA swept the best-of-three series, winning a 1-0 decisionTuesday at Hillcrest. “Our team played exceptional defense,” saidEdwards. “I’m proud of them.”

Senior first baseman Will Gatlin was grinning from ear to ear ashe posed for pictures after the game. He had helped BA win thefootball title as a defensive end and offensive tackle.

“You have to outthink them (teams) in baseball,” said Gatlin.”In football, you outphysical them.”

Gatlin’s sliced an RBI single down the right field line to scoreKeene with the game’s first run. Keene had drawn a walk and stolensecond base.

“It’s been a Cinderella year for us,” Gatlin added. “When wewere little, me and Tyler (Parvin) used to talk about winning astate championship when we were seniors.”

It was a special year for BA’s seniors.