Gotta have pitching to win baseball games

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, April 18, 2013

You have got to have pitching to be successful, either in baseball or softball. Clay Smith, Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s new head baseball coach, didn’t beat around the bush when he was quizzed about recruiting priorities.

“We have got to have strong pitching to be a title contender,” said Smith, during his introduction speech at Monday’s media conference in Rea Auditorium. His travel plan was a Tuesday trip to Baton Rouge to court a hard-throwing pitcher.

If you happen to be a left-handed pitcher who can throw with accuracy and velocity, you are a blue chip prospect in every league, starting with age 10 and up.

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“We need three or four quality arms,” said Smith. “We have two out-of-state scholarships left.”

According to Smith, four strong pitchers and some hard-nosed, hard-working, hard-hitting players at other positions can make a team extremely successful. The 38-year-old Smith has been an assistant coach at Belhaven University for the last 10 years, helping head coach Hill Denson build an annual title contender.

Smith replaces Keith Case who is stepping down after 21 years at Co-Lin. For sure, Case had some quality teams. They won region crowns twice and advanced to the NJCAA Division II World Series in Millington, Tenn., the last time in 2005.

Case, who has a deep passion for baseball, always fielded a quality team. They performed well, on and off the field. There have been more losses than wins in recent years and that really gnawed at Case. He doesn’t like to lose.

With the removal of district recruiting restrictions for each Mississippi Association of Community/Junior College member last year, the playing field suddenly began tilting at a more severe angle. The wealthier schools, boasting new multi-million dollar facilities, and a strong tax base, definitely had an advantage in statewide recruiting.

The so-called blue-collar work ethic, often promoted by Co-Lin coaches, can carry a team just so far. For example, the Co-Lin football team usually fields a competitive squad but state titles are elusive at best. Last year, the Wolfpack won their first state title since 1985.

Of course, there is more to college athletics than winning but don’t tell the wealthy alumni at major colleges about character-building and good citizenship. They want victories, lots of them, especially in football. They also want big bowl games and major revenue.

Back at the community level, Smith said he wa his baseball team to obtain a good education. He wants them to become good students, husbands fathers and valued citizens in the community.

How about wins, coach?

“I cannot stand to lose,” Smith admitted. “I like to win. Winning helps increase friendships in the community and it helps raise money, too.”

Smith, a Wesson native, played catcher for Case at Co-Lin. “We want to build on Coach Case’s foundation. We want to work on keeping quality players at home.”

Teenagers are impressed by facilities. In recent years, the best players in Lincoln and Lawrence Counties have gone to elsewhere to college. Meridian, Hinds and Southwest all have made recruiting inroads.

“I want to find the best players for our program,” said Smith.

The 12th Annual MS Gran Prix was a big success, according to race organizers. It attracted over 220 bicycle racers to Lincoln County last weekend. Friday night’s Bank of Brookhaven Downtown Criterium featured a photo finish, won by Colton Jarisch of Think Finance/Trek Bike Stores, a Dallas-based team.

Jarisch, a 25-year-old Austin, Texas resident, finished as the overall winner of the 4-stage race. He won Saturday morning’s wreck-marred road race, that afternoon’s time trial and Sunday morning’s circuit race around Lake Lincoln State Park.

Mathew Davis, riding for Team LS’port out of Shreveport, La., was runner-up to Jarisch. Davis was the 3-time defending champion.

Caleb Fuchs of Think Finance was third overall. Blair Krogh of 4th Dimension Fitness was fourth and Bryan Funston of the Amateur Cycling Club of Memphis was fifth.

Herring Gas, the local favorite, had 3 riders in the top 10. Corey Ray, Andrew Hammond and Wood Boudreaux finished 7th, 8th and 9th respectively. Teammates Jordan Lambert and Troy Porter placed 13th and 14th.

Herring Gas captain Frank Moak of Brookhaven was a fan favorite. The 52-year-old athlete finished in the top 30, just ahead of teammate Ben Gabardi.

Moak worked overtime recruiting sponsors for the weekend races. Bike Crossing of Ridgeland was the overall sponsor. Race director Richard Barker and a large group of volunteers worked tirelessly to accommodate everyone involved. Loretta Prather and another group of volunteers worked diligently to register the riders and provide vital race information.

The weather was great for most of the weekend. Sunday morning’s severe thunderstorm delayed the 7 a.m. start of the circuit race for about one hour. The Category 1-2-3 riders raced under sunny skies late that morning.

The riders loved the race atmosphere and the surroundings. Another large group plans to return in 2014.

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