BENTON -- The Kelly Hawks look to keep their state championship hopes alive with a sectional win over Caruthersville on Wednesday.
Kelly (11-8) turned its season around after an 0-4 start and claimed its first district championship since 1998 with a 7-1 win over Charleston on Thursday.
A factor in that sluggish start was the loss of head coach John Gandt, whose National Guard unit was called into active duty in Iraq prior to the season. Kelly athletics director Cory Johnson stepped in for Gandt and, as expected, there was an adjustment period for the coach and his players.
"The talent was here," said Johnson. "All I did was come in and help them fine-tune a few things. We really focused on fundamentals, particularly defensively."
Defense and pitching have proven to be the staples of this team. But Johnson has been pleasantly surprised with the offense of late.
"We've won six in a row and just need to keep our momentum going," he said. "During the streak, we've hit the ball well. We just need to swing the sticks, put it in play and throw a little leather at 'em."
Kelly has no head-to-head experience with Caruthersville (13-5), but owns wins over common opponents, Charleston and Portageville. Charleston lost 7-5 to Caruthersville, while Portageville defeated the Tigers. Caruthersville won the District 1 championship with a 9-8 win over Hayti.
Kendal Deason gets the starting nod for Kelly. Ace hurler Trey Simmons, the workhorse down the stretch, will not be available. Simmons, the only senior on the Hawks' roster, is away on the Kelly High School senior class trip.
Kelly hosts the sectional game today at 4 p.m.