May 25, 2013 11:02:58 PM
PEARL -- "Clutch" is an attribute every ball player wants, but so few ever attain.
Even the game's greatest players are judged on their ability to deliver at the most pivotal points of their careers.
There isn't a greater stage to have a clutch performance than a do-or-die title game.
Saturday, New Hope High School pitcher Taylor Stafford and second baseman Parker Earhart etched their names in the Trojans' deep baseball history books in a 3-2 win over Pascagoula for the Mississippi High School Association's Class 5A title at Trustmark Park in Pearl, their first title game appearance in 10 years.
Stafford went all seven innings and gave up two earned on seven hits. He struck out three and walked four. The junior delivered an RBI double at the plate, while Earhart had an RBI single to tie the game.
"We were in a losing streak just before the playoffs," Stafford said. "Our offense wasn't working and neither was our pitching. We were hoping we'd get hot at the right time.
"All I can say is 'wow'."
How both players positioned themselves for star status will tell a greater story in Trojans history.
Stafford endured a nightmare of a start in the clincher, giving up three straight one-out hits in the first inning to load the bases for Pascagoula's Corley Reynolds, whose two-RBI double gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead.
Trojans starting second baseman Earhart felt this misfortune, too, as all three hits were sharply hit balls just out of his reach.
"I don't know if Taylor rally had to correct anything," Trojans coach Lee Boyd said. "It was just early jitters. Sometimes you have that, and you try to do too much -- curveball doesn't bite and the ball kind of comes out wrong. But once he got some in innings under his belt, he was lights out."
Stafford rebounded superbly, giving up only three hits over the rest of the game. Stafford only struck out three but got 10 fly-ball outs in the game .
"They were swinging under my curveball and changeup," Stafford said of the Pascagoula lineup. "It helped create a lot of easy fly balls for our outfield. It helped me settle in, too."
With Stafford composed on the mound, the junior sparked his side's offense, too. After Landon Boyd's two-out RBI double in the third, Stafford tied the game, 2-2, with a two-out RBI single in the fifth.
"You're down in moments what happened in the first," Earhart explained, "but as a ball player you have to flush it down the toilet ans let it go. We all up it behind us and played an unbelievable game."
Said Stafford, "we've been in a lot of tight games. We were down 3-0 to Hernando in that first game. We lost a game in other playoff series. We knew we were gonna score and it would come around. It helped having those past experiences."
New Hope finishes the season 27-9 overall and 10-2 in the postseason. The Trojans' state title is their sixth in school history.
Wells Davis and Will Golsan each went 2-for-3 in the win.
2. Harris, Heritage Academy will count on seniors to lead way HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. Howland likes MSU's non-conference schedule COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Central Academy hopes to contend for state title HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. Walters column: Prep football season coming closer LOCAL COLUMNS