Smith sparks District 1 to baseball gold
CHAMPS District One's Josh Johnson accepts his gold medal from Rush Foundation's Ryan Cole. District One had a 6-2 win over District Six in gold medal baseball. Photo by Carisa McCain/The Meridian Star
By Marty Stamper/The Meridian Star
June 25, 2001
In Major League baseball, the top pitching award each year is named for Cy Young.
After his performance in the 10th-annual State Games of Mississippi, Sparky Smith should have the mythical award for top pitcher in the annual baseball tournament at Meridian Community College named for him.
Smith's District One team took the gold medal with a 6-2 win over District Six Sunday afternoon at MCC.
Smith, a rising senior at Tupelo, allowed only two runs, one of which was earned, in 6 1/3 innings in the championship game to help District One secure the gold medal for the second straight year.
Smith struck out five, walked four, and allowed seven hits before being lifted with one out in the top of the seventh. Not bad considering he had tossed a seven-inning complete game on Friday in a 10-2 romp over District Four. In getting the two victories, Smith combined for 13 1/3 innings, allowed 14 hits and eight walks, and struck out 11.
"That was Sparky's second great game of the State Games," District One coach Curt Fowler of W.P. Daniel High School in New Albany said following the gold medal ceremony. "He's one of the best I've ever seen in high school. He's probably the gutsiest pitcher I've ever seen. He wouldn't let me take the ball away from him today.
"We had nine excellent pitchers on this team and Sparky just set himself apart, especially today. He'll be an outstanding college pitcher."
The extended time on the mound wasn't unusual for Smith.
"I pitched pretty much every other game," Smith said of his junior season at Tupelo. "I iced my arm (after Friday's game), did the band, and did a little running."
District Six took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning as Joseph McCaskill singled and scored when Dillon Sudduth followed with a single and went all the way to third when the ball was booted in right field.
Corey Carter of West Point tied the game in the top of the fourth with a solo homer to left field. Kevin Caldwell of Tupelo followed with a single and put District One up for good when he scored from third base on an attempted pickoff of Scottie Jacobs at first base.
District One put the game away with a four-run sixth.
Kennard Springer and Carter opened the inning with singles. After a double steal, Caldwell was intentionally walked to load the bases. Reliever Van Pope promptly hit Jacobs to force in one run. After an RBI-single by Bo Baxter of Tupelo, Pope walked Joel Gafford to force in another run. The fourth run of the inning scored on a double play as District One grabbed a 6-1 advantage.
"The run support always helps," Smith said. "You get a little insurance and that's all you need."
J.J. Brown of Vicksburg hit a one-out triple in the top of the seventh for District Six and scored on a single by Sam Self of Madison Central. After Pope drew a walk, Bryan Williamson of Itawamba AHS came on in relief of Smith and retired the next two batters to seal the win.
Carter had a single and a homer for District One. Caldwell, Jacobs, and Springer each had a pair of singles as District One had 10 hits.
Brown had two singles and a triple for District Six. Self had two singles among his team's seven hits.
Both teams committed one error.
District Six starter Rob Blackledge took the loss, allowing five runs, all earned, and nine hits in five-plus innings.
Smith said the experience of the State Games is something he won't forget.
"They're great. I love it. It's a lot of exposure to a lot of good people," Smith said.
Fowler echoed Smith's sentiments.
"This competition here is the best in the state," Fowler said. "It's a great experience for the kids. (State Games baseball commissioner) Kent Farris and all the people here at Meridian do such a wonderful job running it.
"These guys worked so hard on the field to get it ready for the kids to see along with the campus. It's just outstanding. All the kids talk about the field being one of the best they've ever played on."
Marty Stamper is a sports writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at email@example.com.