HS PLAYOFFS: LAMP’s playoff run ends
By Tim Gayle
LAMP’s magical run through the Class 4A playoff bracket came to a crashing halt at the hands of the defending state champions as the Golden Tigers ran out of gas and out of pitching on Friday afternoon at Paterson Field.
After battling UMS-Wright evenly through the first two games of the best-of-three semifinal series, the Tigers surrendered 11 unearned runs in an 18-0 loss to the Bulldogs that ended the season but did little to dampen their status as the region’s best team by reaching the semifinal round.
That was the message LAMP coach Chad Smith delivered to his players after the fifth-year coach and his tightknit group of five seniors made their first-ever playoff run together.
“You tell them I’m proud of them, because I am,” Smith said. “And you’re going to miss the seniors and you’re proud of their accomplishments. Being one of the last four teams in the state is a pretty big deal, no matter who you are. We’re proud of them. Wished they could have stayed, wished we could have kept going.”
Just as a trip to the 3A state finals in 2008 and the 3A semifinals in 2011 established LAMP as one of the state’s top baseball programs during that era, the trip to the 4A semifinals in 2017 put the Golden Tigers back on the baseball map. And this year’s squad might have been even more remarkable because of its small roster that relied heavily on the talent of 12 players, but Smith said he envisioned this kind of playoff run back in February.
“Playing solid defense, yes,” he said. “And that’s what let us down today. We made several errors on plays that we talk about, our immaturity, don’t make that throw, avoid that big inning. It kind of caught up with us, but we’ve played great defense. That’s what got us here.”
UMS-Wright (26-11) returns to the 4A state finals and will face Madison Academy in the best-of-three championship series beginning Tuesday at Paterson Field at 7 p.m.
“That’s probably the best feeling in the world, getting right back to it the next year,” UMS senior first baseman Sam Plash said. “We’ve worked hard all year, practicing late all the time, just to get back.”
Plash, the hero of the semifinal opener with two home runs and five RBIs, delivered again on Friday with a 2 for 3 performance, hitting a pair of RBI singles in the third inning and scoring in the fourth after drawing an intentional walk.
“We came out with a lot more intensity today,” Plash said. “We knew we had to hit the ball, work hard and try to put up some runs.”
With sophomore Myles Herron on the mound for LAMP – and no real options behind him – there was no margin for error if the Golden Tigers were to upset the heavily favored defending state champions. Instead, it all unraveled in a nightmarish third inning that included two throwing errors, one fielding error and seven unearned runs that turned the game into a rout.
Smith was forced to replace Herron with two outs in the third but was unable to pitch Game 1 starter Winston Morgan or Game 2 starter Philip Julian and his next option, second baseman Austin Clark, was battling back spasms. Smith turned to right fielder Lance Phung, who pitched out of the third inning jam but ran into another in the fourth inning, then left fielder Pruett Singleton, then back to Phung as the Golden Tigers watched UMS-Wright continue to steal bases and wave runners home with a double-digit lead as 12 consecutive runners reached base.
“I don’t operate that way,” UMS-Wright coach Kevin Raley said, cutting off a suggestion that LAMP had no fight left in the fourth inning. “I respect LAMP, I respect that program. Coach Smith does a great job with those kids. I know anything can happen in this game. I don’t take it for granted.”
Bulldog starter Brant Dixon pitched all five innings and surrendered just three singles to hold the Tiger offense at bay.
“Brant, for the second week in a row in Game Three, has thrown really well,” Raley said. “He threw good against Tallassee for seven innings and he threw good today. He moves it in and out and has a decent little breaking ball. He’s not overpowering but he’s competing, he’s pounding the strike zone.”