Varnado baseball wins historic game

Published 11:51 am Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Varnado’s 2017 baseball team is part of history.
On Friday evening at Franklinton High School, the Wildcats captured their baseball program’s first playoff victory with an 11-1 win over Kentwood in five innings, in the regional round of the Class 1A postseason.
“It’s what we’ve preached since day one,” first-year coach Clay Tageant said. “When I came in, I preached that were going to change the culture and we were going to turn this into a winning program. It’s surprising. It is kind of crazy, but with us, inside this team, it’s what we expected.”
Offensively, the sixth-seeded Wildcats, who had a bye in the opening round, took advantage of seemingly every mistake that Kentwood made. Varnado was alert on the bases and did a good job of putting the ball in play. The Wildcats struck out just three times.
Varnado jumped out to a 3-0 lead through the first inning. Errol Varnado, who reached base in all four plate appearances, with a three-run homer, a single and two walks, opened the frame by coaxing a walk and stealing second. Armontee Kemp then tripled to right centerfield, plating Varnado with the first run.
Kemp tallied on the play after a high throw, as the catcher tried to get him out at third and it was 2-0. After the first two outs were recorded, Trace Lozier restarted the rally with a single. Courtesy runner Jaccorius Bickham stole second, and after a walk to Ja’Kyle Newkirk, Bickham scored on Christian Matthews’ RBI single. It was 3-0 through one inning.
That was plenty of runs for Jaylan Jefferson, who was masterful all game.
Jefferson allowed just one hit, which came to the second batter of the game, Terrell Hoofkin. Kentwood had just two more base runners the rest of the game and one of them scored.
Kentwood’s Trey Palmer opened the second inning by striking out, but reached first on a wild pitch. Palmer got picked off and caught in a rundown, but was able to move up a pair of bases on an errant throw during the rundown. He scored with one out on Anthony Holden’s RBI groundout, trimming the lead to 3-1. That was the Wildcats’ only error, as the defense was solid throughout. One of the top defensive stops was a double play on a lineout in the first inning, which was caught by shortstop Jaroderick Robinson, who threw to first baseman Xavier Moses to end the inning.
Jefferson pitched all five innings, allowing the run, which was unearned, on one hit with nine strikeouts, no walks and a hit batter. Jefferson struck out the side in the fourth inning.
“Just what he had to do, set the tone and go right at people,” Tageant said. “Breaking ball was unbelievable. He’s throwing fastballs middle-in, away, up, down. Breaking ball, same thing. He has that presence on the mound. He did a great job.”
Varnado continued to tack on runs throughout the game. The Wildcats scored in every inning.
The Wildcats put up two more runs in the second inning. Travon Stokes began the inning by reaching on an error. Varnado then hit a chopper over third and Kemp moved them along with a sacrifice bunt, putting runners at second-and-third with one out. Jefferson was next and he hit what looked like a routine foul out to first, but Stokes alertly took off for home and made it. Varnado attempted to reach third, but an overthrow to third allowed him to score. It was 5-1 and the Wildcats were well on their way to victory.
Jefferson put up a shutdown inning, retiring Kentwood in order and then Varnado added another run. Newkirk tripled and scored one batter later when Matthews, who had two hits and two RBIs, singled to right to make it 6-1.
Then came the big inning.
In the fourth, the first two Varnado hitters were retired, but the next five reached in an inning that saw the Wildcats score five runs on two hits, highlighted by a ball that Varnado crushed.
The two-out rally began when Newkirk reached on an error. Matthews walked to keep the inning going and then the floodgates opened. Robinson reached on an error that plated Newkirk to make it 7-1. Matthews and Robinson moved up on a passed ball. Then Stokes hit a ball to first. Not taking anything for granted, Stokes hustled to first and beat the pitcher to the bag for an RBI infield hit that plated Matthews and made it 8-1. Varnado was up next with two on and two out. Varnado belted a pitch to deep left field and gone, and the Wildcats had an 11-1 lead.
Jefferson shut down Kentwood in order in the fifth to end the 11-1 victory.
Kemp finished with one hit, the RBI triple. Lozier had a hit. Newkirk tripled and scored two runs. Robinson scored twice and Stokes singled and tallied two runs.
Varnado, which is 17-7, advanced to the quarterfinals and will travel to play third-seeded Delhi Charter (19-12) on Thursday evening at 5 p.m.
Delhi Charter had a bye in the first round, before defeating No. 14 Centerville (12-15), 4-3, in eight innings.
No. 14 Kentwood finished with a 14-11 season.

Varnado’s Jaylan Jefferson prepares to release a pitch in Friday’s playoff game. Jefferson pitched all five innings, allowing no earned runs on one hit with nine strikeouts, no walks and a hit batter.