March 13, 2014 1:37:38 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Starkville High School coach Travis Garner feels so fortunate that he gets to coach A.J. Brown for two more seasons. For the simple reason that Brown doesn't know how talented he can become over that time.
In a dramatic doubleheader win over Horn Lake Wednesday, Brown essentially put the team on his broad shoulders and did everything he could to guarantee victories. In game one where the Yellow Jackets (7-2) won 10-9, Brown had an inside-the-park home run during a six-run sixth inning. Brown went 2 for 4 in the game and his home run immediately followed Tanner Clanton's two-run shot deep over the left field wall.
"When the wind is blowing out about 25 miles per hour, it makes this park here in Starkville play really small," Garner said. "It seemed like anything that got in the air was running out of our yard today."
Following a disappointing 14-4 loss to New Hope the night before, Starkville managed to rebound from a 9-1 deficit to prove they have a comeback effort in their dugout. Senior Harper Day kept the Eagles off the scoreboard for the final 1 2/3 innings to get the win on the mound.
"We got our bell rung by New Hope and believe me, I was really worried about how we would respond and going down 9-1 wasn't part of my plan," Garner said. "That was a gut check for us but as soon as Tanner hit the shot, we played so much better and it got contagious for everybody."
Clanton, a senior, had a pair of two-hit games Wednesday and has provided more than acceptable protection for Brown in the Yellow Jackets' order.
In typical fashion, Starkville fell behind again in the second game of the doubleheader due to the brilliance of Horn Lake left-handed ace Dalton Minton. Milton didn't give up a run until the sixth inning and left his seven-inning outing with nine strikeouts.
"I just kept telling the guys that we can hit their other arms and to just give me a chance with the game on the line late," Brown said. "I wanted the game on my at-bat and I was glad I could shorten up my swing and get the job done."
Brown's defense kept the SHS deficit to 2-0 as he used his phenomenal speed to chase a well-hit fly ball down in deep left-center for the final out of the fifth inning.
After Starkville found some openings in the Eagles bullpen, Brown was given a chance to win the second game with one swing in the ninth inning. When he made contact with a fastball from Horn Lake right-hander Jason Carter, Brown immediately had negative thoughts.
"I thought right off the bat that I didn't get enough of it and it was going to be a long fly out," Brown said. "I'm still not sure where the ball even landed."
The landing spot of Brown's walk off double was off the base of the centerfield wall as Colbey Rivers and Will Murphree easily jogged home for SHS' 4-3 win.
"I'd just like to focus on making sure I'm getting better in a certain area of the game every time I step on the field," Brown said. "I can't do everything well yet and so I have time to listen to my coaches and let them help me be as good as I want to be."
Rivers earned the win on the mound by not surrendering a earned run over three innings of relief. The only Horn Lake run that was allowed to cross in the ninth inning came off a defensive error by the SHS infield.
Brown finished the two games with three hits, three RBIs and a pair of runs scored in the Yellow Jackets two wins. Garner confirmed Wednesday's game-winner wasn't close to the level that Brown's power can stretch.
"If you were at East Webster earlier this season, he hit a ball that I would believe hasn't landed yet," Garner said while pointing to the trees beyond the left field wall at Carlisle Field. "You see those trees there. The ball he hit at East Webster would've cleared those trees and still been going another 50 feet."
After watching his sophomore outfielder and three-hole hitter simply manhandle Horn Lake pitching, Garner is convinced that if Brown maintains his level of commitment, his potential isn't even fully known yet.
"That joker is pretty good isn't he?," Garner said laughing. "What's scary is there's no chance he's even touched his maximum level just yet and that's just frightening. He can be the best player that this place has seen in a long time before his high school career is over."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.