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By MATTHEW STEVENS
The playoff hopes for the Starkville High baseball team are still alive after crushing their rival at home.
The Yellowjackets offense hung 12 runs in five innings on Falcons ace pitcher Christian Dale to win 12-0 in run-rule fashion after five innings of play.
Less than a month after losing to the same Columbus team with the same pitcher on the mound 8-2 on Yellowjacket Field, Starkville's bats woke up on Senior Night to the tune of five runs through the first three innings and then the flood gates opened with a seven-run fourth frame.
"We were just more mentally ready to play tonight than we have been in the past and our kids have bought into what we're trying to teach them," Starkville High head coach Danny Carlisle said. "Honestly, I don't feel like we've been out of any but two games all season. We're just playing hot right now."
SHS (8-10, 2-5 in Region 2) needs to win its final two games against Tupelo and South Panola in order to qualify for the postseason but recognize they control their own destiny in that regard.
"We're on life support and we know that," Carlisle said. "Nobody can unplug it but us though."
Starkville's gameplan at the plate was evident from the opening pitch as Carlisle had instructed his hitters to attack Dale's first-pitch fastballs and that plan worked by pounding pitches left over the middle of the plate.
"We're hitting fastballs and as long as we keep fouling off pitches, he's bound to leave one in our zone," junior shortstop Max Bartlett said.
Bartlett led the Yellowjackets offense with a 2-for-2 effort at the plate with three RBIs and two stolen bases.
"We got mad (over previous games against Columbus) and it showed tonight," Bartlett said.
Dale, a 170-pound sophomore, got frustrated over his fielders committing five errors in front of him and then the nightmare of an outing just got worse. The 6-foot tall right-hander that can usually command the plate with three pitches allowed all 12 runs on 10 hits in just 3 1/3 innings of work that included 85 pitches.
"He's got to mature a little bit," Columbus head coach Jeffrey Cook said. "He's got to be more of a leader even if he's our number one guy."
Starkville got a more than solid outing out of senior right-hander Garrett Batson after he held the Columbus offense to just one hit in a complete game five innings of work. The only time a Falcons base runner got past first base was on what everybody thought would be a leadoff triple in the third inning but junior outifielder Aaron Cooks failed to touch first base while rounding the bases and was ruled out on the play.
"To be honest it's real easy to pitch when there's so many runs on the board by my teammates and I didn't even have anything working but my fastball," Batson said. "We want to make the playoffs so bad that we're giving our heart out there every game."
Senior Wesley Montgomery, who normally catches but was moved to third base Tuesday night, went 2-for-2 at the plate with a walk and made a athletic jumping catch on a bullet off the bat of Columbus infielder Dylan Patel.
"I think this team is realizing that they're as good as anybody they've faced this season and didn't really play up to its potential early on," Carlisle said.
With the loss, Columbus fell to 11-11 overall and 2-5 in the region.
Starkville will return to their home field Friday for a matchup with region leader Tupelo with the varsity starting at 6 p.m.