Photo/James Pugh

The Stringer Red Devils are headed to the MHSAA 1A State Championship. 

After run-ruling Hamilton in game one of the South State series last Wednesday, the Red Devils, because of weather conditions, had to wait four days to resume play.    Stringer dropped game two [5-2] at Hamilton Monday evening, but the bats, particularly freshman Jackson Parker’s, came back to life Tuesday night in Stringer, and the Red Devils run-ruled the Lions again in a 12-2, six inning contest to advance to Trustmark Park in Pearl. 

Stringer head coach Wade Weathers couldn’t be more proud of his team – one that he says is very deserving of their trip to the State Championship games.  

“They deserve everything they get.  These guys have done an outstanding job of getting to this point with people telling them all year, ‘hey, you’ve got the same team coming back, and we’ll be right back here next year.’  It’s not that easy.  These kids know it’s not that easy.  It’s very difficult,” he explained.  “These guys have been through it all; through every scenario you can go through in a playoff series, and I think that experience is what pushed them over the edge.  I am super jacked up for them.”

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Jackson Parker exploded for the Red Devils in game three.  The freshman belted a  third inning, three-run homer off the scoreboard in right center, a two-run round tripper in the fifth, and a long, bases loaded drive off the left center wall to walk the game off in the bottom of the sixth.     He finished the game with 7 RBIs.    

“He’s a freshman, but he ain’t,” Weathers, with a big smile, said of Parker.  “It’s his third year as a starter.  He is seeing the ball really well right now, and he absolutely loves hitting. He just had a huge night.  He almost had three homeruns to end it , but walked off for the run-rule there. You can’t teach that; it’s good stuff, and it’s fun to coach.”

Andrew Nix, who went four innings in the game one victory over Hamilton, took the mound again for the Red Devils in game three.  Just as he was in the opener Nix was a master of hitting his spots in the zone during game three, and he limited the Lions to only two runs before leaving the hill early in the top of the sixth.  Hamilton, trailing 8-2 in the top of the fifth made somewhat of a push to get back in the game.  But, after giving up two hits in the frame, with no outs, Nix fanned three straight to get out of the inning.  Jackson Parker cleaned up the top of the sixth on the hill, punching a runner out at first on a sharply hit ball hit back to the mound, and by recording two strikeouts.  

“It’s the same old story,” Weathers mentioned of Nix.  “He throws strikes, and he gets ground balls and fly balls for outs.  He doesn’t strike a lot of people out; doesn’t throw real hard, but I mean he’s our pitcher . . . that’s our guy.  In a game like tonight, that’s who we want on the mound.  That tandem that we had; him and Parker at the end . . . that can’t set up better for us.”

Stringer took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on a sacrifice fly and a booted ball at short that scored Jake Parker, and the runs continued to pour on from there.  

Conner Smith drew a two-out walk in the bottom of the second, and Conner Hicks then singled to right to score Smith to hand the Devils a 3-0 advantage.  Later in the inning with the bases loaded, Nix walked to plate Hicks for a 4-0 lead before Hamilton got out of the frame.  

The Lions touched the triangle in the top of third for a run, but Stringer kept pounding to erase any thought of an early comeback.  Evan Holifield led off the bottom of the third with a walk, and Hunter Burkeen was hit by a pitch.  Smith put down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners to second and third.  Cayleb Dyess then singled to left to score Holifield for a 5-1 lead.   Hicks hit into a fielder’s choice that scored Burkeen from third, and then Jackson Parker stepped to the plate and sent the three-run homer off the scoreboard to clear the bases and give Stringer an 8-1 cushion before the Lions ended the inning.  

Hamilton scored another run in the top of the fourth, and held Stringer scoreless in the bottom half of the inning, but the Red Devils got things going again in the bottom of the fifth.  Hicks drew a one-out walk, stole second, and advanced to third on a throwing error during the steal.  Jackson Parker then sent his second dinger of the night into the dark Stringer sky to give the Red Devils a 10-2 lead. 

Nix, after giving up a lead off singled in the bottom of the sixth, gave the hill to Jackson Parker, where he quickly recorded the outs Stringer needed, with runners on second and third, to get to the bottom of the sixth.  In the bottom portion of the inning, Hunter Burkeen delivered a one-out single to right, and Hamilton got the second out of the frame on a strikeout.  A Dyess ball put into play that was booted at shortstop landed him at second and Burkeen at third.  Hicks was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and Jackson Parker put the exclamation on his night at the plate with the deep drive off the wall in left center for the walk-off victory.  

Stringer is now set to take on Smithville for the 1A State Championship.  The first pitch of the three-game series will be tossed Thursday at 1 p.m. at Trustmark Park in Pearl.  Game two is scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m.

Weathers mentioned that his team will prepare to see good pitching in the series against Smithville, and that is team is looking forward to the chance to secure a state title. 

“I know they’ve got some good arms, and I know they’ve got one that is going to State [Mississippi State], I believe.  He throws pretty hard, but we’ll prepare for him,” he said.  “I’m sure they are a great ball club; I haven’t heard a lot about them other than the arm they have, but if you are in the State Championship, you must be doing something pretty good.  I’m sure it will be a good quality test, and we look forward to the opportunity.”

(Article by Heath Walley)

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