June 30, 2012 11:05:48 PM
It's never too hot to make an impression.
Baking on a day in which temperatures soared into triple digits, Josh Stillman made sure he gave New Hope High School baseball coach Lee Boyd something to remember him by for the 2012-13 school year.
Stillman allowed just four hits in a complete-game effort Saturday to lead New Hope to a 3-2 victory against S. Louis Catholic (La.) in the championship game of the Golden Triangle High School Baseball tournament at Columbus High School.
"I had fastball command and curveball (command)," Stillman said. "They were just both on today. I mixed my pitches well and had a good defense behind me."
With temperatures in Columbus hitting 103 degrees and the heat index climbing to 121, Stillman, a rising sophomore right-hander, looked at home in the sizzling conditions. He mixed and located his pitches well even after getting two outs in relief in New Hope's first game of the day, an 8-6 victory against Kosciusko, before giving way to Landon Boyd.
Coach Boyd said he started Stillman at the pitch count he had after his outing against Kosciusko (18) and stayed with him because he pitched to contact all game.
"We knew Josh could throw strikes," Boyd said. "With six ballgames in three days, we had thrown everybody, and I tried not to throw Landon because we were trying to get looks at other kids who could step into that role that Peyton (Lee) left. We knew he was going to throw strikes, but I didn't know he was going to be that effective. I think his pitch count for the game was 69 pitches through seven."
Stillman admitted he didn't know if he would be able to finish the game, but he said he "felt great" starting New Hope's second game of the day and then didn't let the conditions faze him.
"My pitch count ran low and that helped me out a lot," Stillman said. "The defense certainly helped out a lot, too."
During the high school season, Boyd emphasized to his pitchers the importance of throwing strikes. With a solid defense, Landon Boyd, Lee, and Taylor Stafford, New Hope's three primary pitchers, used that mentality and helped lead the Trojans to the Class 5A North State title series.
Stillman spent this past season perfecting that approach on New Hope's junior varsity team. He also saw playing time at middle infield. With the graduation of Lee and second baseman Joe Harvey, Stillman knows there could be opportunities for the taking if he delivers like he did Saturday.
The three-day, eight-team tournament, which was played at Columbus, New Hope, and West Point high schools, gave other players like Trae Collins, who saw time on the New Hope High varsity team, Parker Earhart, Jake Hollis, JC Redden, and Jace Caldwell chances to make impressions, too. Collins, who played center field in place of an injured Stafford, responded Saturday with two hits and two RBIs to help New Hope take home the title. Hollis also had an RBI single in the bottom of the fourth inning to open the scoring.
The victory was New Hope's second against St. Louis Catholic, which is from Lake Charles, La. New Hope won 22-13 Thursday.
St. Louis Catholic edged Columbus 4-3 in eight innings earlier Saturday to advance to the championship.
Coach Boyd said he considered pulling Stillman with two outs in the seventh after he allowed a single and went to 3-0 on the next batter. But Stillman battled back and ended the game with a groundout to second base.
"I wanted to give him a chance to finish it, but the tying run would have been on second at that point, so one hit would have tied it, so I was going to go with Landon there," Boyd said. "I am glad he got a chance to finish the game. I am proud of him. He has thrown a lot. He threw a lot of JV innings (this past season), and we have a lot of hope for him for the future."
St. Louis Catholic scored its runs in the sixth thanks to a walk, a single, a hit batter, a sacrifice fly, and a wild pitch.
With multiple players seeing action on several teams in the offseason, Boyd was pleased with what he saw from the Trojans. He had an opportunity to play Tee Payne, a catcher, at first base, and to bump younger players up to the varsity level. Even though New Hope's varsity team played only eight games due to weather in an abbreviated "summer" season, Boyd feels the future is bright in part due to performances like the one he saw from Stillman.
"I definitely will be working to stay on top of things (leading up to next season)," Stillman said. "I think (the performance Saturday) will help me for next year because I probably won't be pitching too much because I am one of the younger guys, but maybe this game will put in (coach Boyd's) mind that I can do it for the varsity team."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.