Starkville Academy head baseball coach talks with Drew Pellum earlier this season. The Volunteers take on Heritage today at 6 p.m. in the playoffs. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
Coach Neal Henry and his Starkville Academy baseball team are in a place they have not been before.
The Volunteers play Heritage Academy today at 6 p.m. in Columbus in the first round of the Class AAA, Division II playoffs.
This is the first time since 2006 that Starkville Academy has been in the playoffs and the first for Henry as a head coach. He was an assistant for Madison Ridgeland Academy when they made the postseason in 2009.
It is a best of three series with the winner getting the team that advances from the Magnolia Heights/Hillcrest Christian series.
The Vols come in with a 21-9 record while the Patriots enter with a 20-12 mark and a six-game winning streak.
Henry is confident in his squad and hopes experience from his older players can get the job done.
"Two years ago we won 14 games," Henry said. "Last year, we won 11 games and this year we are up to 21 (games). We play with a lot of experienced guys that have played for two and three years in this league. The playoffs will be something new to them, but like I was telling them (Monday), it is just another baseball game."
Starkville Academy and Heritage matched up in the first game of the season with the Vols taking the game 4-3.
"We played them every year," Henry said. "Our guys know their guys, and their guys know our guys. Columbus is only 30 minutes away. Some of them live in Starkville and drive to Columbus; some of them live in Columbus and drive to Starkville.
"They have been playing against each other since they were little. I have a pretty good idea. When (teams) start off, they are different teams than how they are now. We are going to expect them to be at their best and compete and we'll do the same."
When it comes to which player needs to step up, Henry couldn't single out just one player. He wants his team as a whole to step up and lead.
"I preach to our team a lot that I am not looking for any specific players, just the experience, which would be pretty much our whole team," Henry said. "They have played in tight games since they were 10th and 9th graders. It's time for them to step up, get the job done and get us to next week."
For Henry and SA, it has been pitching and defense that has been the highlights. Henry does not expect that to change in the postseason and wants his team to continue to focus on those two aspects of the game.
"That is what we have based our whole year off of," Henry said. "That is how we got to 21 wins and that is how we got to where we are. That will definitely be factors on how we do."
Game two will be at Volunteer Field Thursday at 5 p.m. If necessary, a third game will follow.
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