High School Sports

Believe in the 'Cleave: Bulldogs claim their first baseball state championship

The Vancleave Bulldogs celebrate after beating New Hope for the Class 4A title on May 18, 2018, in the MHSAA State Baseball Championships at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
The Vancleave Bulldogs celebrate after beating New Hope for the Class 4A title on May 18, 2018, in the MHSAA State Baseball Championships at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Special to the Sun Herald

The Vancleave baseball team's first trip to the state title round turned out golden.

The Bulldogs lifted the Gold Glove trophy Friday night at Trustmark Park for the program's first state championship after finishing off an impressive sweep of New Hope with a 3-0 victory.

Shortstop Colton Hipp fielded a grounder and tossed to first baseman Justin Stokes for the game's final out. The Bulldogs threw their gloves high into the air in unison and formed a dogpile on the pitcher's mound.

The man at the bottom of the pile was senior pitcher Hayden Robb, who gave Vancleave its second consecutive complete-game shutout in the Class 4A title series.

“It's amazing,” Robb said. “Ever since we were kids we had people tell us we can do this. To finally put it into action and make it happen is awesome.

“I don't know if anybody has experienced (a dogpile). If you're on the bottom, that's the worst and the best feeling. It was great.”

Robb (9-2) said he took the mound believing all he needed was a single run to win the game. The Bulldogs managed to scratch across three.

The hard-throwing right-hander gave up no runs on three hits, striking out seven and walking three.

“He was awesome and he's been great for us all playoff season,” Vancleave coach Daniel Best said. “He struggled a little this year with consistency, but he stepped up and did like he did all last year and competed every inning. He got behind in counts and worked back and got ground balls. The defense played outstanding behind him. Man, it was just an awesome team effort by all the guys.”

Senior left-hander Bailee Hendon, who played center field Friday night, was the man who tossed a shutout in the first game.

Once Robb retired the final man, it ended a run of 22 consecutive innings of the Vancleave pitching staff holding the opponent scoreless. It was the second consecutive complete-game shutout by Robb, who said he had “A heart full of pride” over the scoreless streak.

“That's a great team over there,” Robb said of New Hope. “State championships, I think they have seven. They're a winning program. They know how to win.”

Prior to this week, Vancleave had never been to the state championship series. They may have been rookies in the situation, but they never let it show.

Best, who is in his first season as a head coach, is a calm character and the players reflected his quiet confidence throughout the series.

Best answered, “No,” with a laugh when was asked if he thought a state title was possible in his first year as a head coach.

“But it's nice,” the former Southern Miss All-American pitcher said. “I had a great group of kids. It's a credit to them. It's a great group of seniors. They're going to be missed. I'm proud of those guys.”

Vancleave, which finished 30-7, was the only team in the state to go undefeated throughout the postseason with a 10-0 mark.

“That is huge for the community,” senior Gavin McKerchie said. “It's brings recognition to Vancleave as a city.”

Vancleave took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when cleanup hitter Justin Stokes stepped to the plate with one out and a man on third and managed to send a dribbler down the first base line on a pitch that hit in the dirt before striking his bat. Jonathan Knight, who walked to begin the game, came home for the score.

McKerchie started the second inning with a double to right and scored from third three batters later on a wild pitch, allowing Vancleave to go up 2-0.

After Vancleave was held scoreless for three innings, a sac bunt by McKerchie brought home an insurance run in the sixth inning for the final score of the game.

Vancleave was credited with only two hits in the game, but the Bulldogs made New Hope pay for every mistake.