By JOEL COLEMAN
There were no cakes or gifts at Volunteer Field Saturday night, but Starkville Academy's Kyle Henson still found a way to celebrate his birthday in style.
On the day he turned 18-years-old, SA's senior shortstop went a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate, coming just a triple shy of the cycle while pacing a 14-hit SA attack in an 11-3 win over Winston Academy in the Volunteers' home opener.
"It felt good, that's for sure," said Henson of his performance. "But overall, we had 14 hits. You can win a lot of ballgames with 14 hits. If you put the ball in play, something's going to happen."
Henson contributed a pair of singles, a double, a home run, two runs scored and two RBI's in support of SA starting pitcher and fellow senior Ian Tharp.
Tharp earned the win for the Vols by going six innings while surrendering just three hits and the three Winston Academy runs.
"He threw strikes, he got ahead of people and got some ground ball outs," said second-year Volunteers head coach Neal Henry of Tharp. "He threw this past Tuesday and had a bad outing, but he came out here (Saturday) and pitched like a senior."
All of the damage against Tharp came in the first three innings as the Patriots took advantage of their three hits and three SA errors.
Still, Tharp was able to maintain control as he rebounded from the rocky start to face the minimum over his final three frames of work.
"I just finally got loose," said Tharp. "I had to get in a rhythm. Coach Henry has stressed to us that we've got to have senior leadership and I'm a senior and did everything I could to take the game back into my hands. I had a lot of confidence and it felt good throwing."
Led by Henson, Tharp received plenty of support. After the Vols fell behind 1-0 in the top of the first, Henson and Hunter Bolin each singled to begin the home half of the inning and later scored to give SA a 2-1 lead.
An inning later, it was Alex Holtcamp who singled to start another two-run rally as the Vols increased their advantage to 4-1.
Winston Academy clawed back to within one run at 4-3 in the top of the third before pitching completely took over the game.
Patriots starting pitcher Tyler Sullivan, who was eventually saddled with the loss, kept his team in the contest by silencing SA in the third and fourth innings before the Vols finally broke through for two more runs in the fifth on run-scoring singles by Ryan Mann and Colby Runnels to make it 6-3.
An inning later, SA put the game away with a six-run outburst that began on Henson's one-out, opposite field solo homer to left.
"I had two strikes on me and I was just trying to put it in play," said Henson. "I didn't think it was gone when I hit it. I thought it was probably a double, but it got over so I'm not going to complain."
Bolin followed Henson's blast with a fly out to center for the second out of the inning, but the next three SA batters reached to load the bases for Holtcamp, who promptly lined a two run single to center to make it 9-3.
Drew Pellum followed with a two-run single of his own to cap the scoring.
Winston Academy head coach Sam Hathorn said SA's sixth inning rally broke his team's spirit after an intense first week of play.
"It's been a long week for us," said Hathorn. "We played a real emotional game on Thursday and our kids have a lot of fight, but I think all that just kind of knocked the wind out of us."
In the seventh inning, SA turned things over to Stephen Robertson on the mound.
Robertson picked up where Tharp left off, setting Winston Academy down in order to help improve the Vols to 2-1 for the season.
The Patriots fell to 1-2.
Starkville Academy returns to play on Tuesday with a 6 p.m. home game against Oak Hill.
All of the Vols hope things turn out Tuesday as well as they did for Henson's own personal birthday bash Saturday.
"We all called it," said Tharp. "I told (Henson) that I was going to pitch for him on his birthday, but he had to give me something. Sure enough, he did."