May 16, 2014 10:10:30 AM
New Hope High School senior pitcher Taylor Stafford felt good and in complete control on the mound Thursday night.
That was really bad news for the Oxford baseball team.
Stafford fired a one-hitter and New Hope remained perfect in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State playoffs with a 7-0 win at Trojan Field.
New Hope (29-3) is one win away from a second-straight North State title. The best-of-three series continues at 7 tonight in Oxford. If needed, a third game would be at 7 Saturday night.
For Stafford (7-0), it was his third complete-game victory versus Oxford this season.
"I felt great out there tonight," Stafford said. "All of my symptoms of when I have been sick were gone. During that time, my velocity was down a little bit. That was the main reason for my struggles here of late. I got a one-inning bullpen against Pearl Monday night and felt great. Then I felt even better the next day, so I knew I was going to be able to come out and pitch this game the way I wanted to and have enough stamina to finish it."
Stafford threw 105 pitches, allowing only six base runners (on three walks, two errors, and a Ben Bianco double in the second inning).
"Taylor won both of the regular-season games at Oxford and each time he really struggled with the walks," New Hope coach Lee Boyd said. "The big thing tonight was efficiency. Two of his three walks came in the seventh inning when he got tired a little bit. But it sure was great to see him back out there in his usual form."
Oxford (26-9) handed New Hope a 5-1 loss on March 28. The Trojans have won 16 in a row since then. The biggest thing for New Hope has been the dominance of its pitching staff. In the past three playoff wins, the Trojans have allowed one unearned run and six hits.
"The whole pitching staff has been outstanding," Stafford said. "In the playoffs, you have to have an extra player or two step up, and we have had just that. We know when we pitch it the way we have here lately we are going to be hard to beat."
Due to his recent illnesses, Stafford didn't start on the mound against Pearl. Josh Stillman picked up the slack with a three-hit shutout in the series opener. J.C. Redden and Payton Lane followed that lead with a dominating performance in a 14-1 win Monday night. Stafford struck out the side in the fifth of that win and then felt good enough to go Thursday.
"When Taylor steps out there and does that, it gives the whole team a huge lift," Lane said. "We aren't playing like we are cocky and we don't have the big head, but we are playing like a team that knows it is good. We have the right pieces to be successful late in the year like this."
New Hope had 19 hits Monday. The success carried over to Thursday, as New Hope tagged starter Hunter Roth for 12 hits. New Hope stranded the bases loaded in the second and third but scored a run apiece in each inning. A four-run fourth followed and gave Stafford more than enough breathing room.
"We didn't get the one big hit or this game would have been over much earlier," Lane said. "You could tell the offense had a spark that carried over from Monday night. Everybody has a little more confidence when they bat after that game Monday night. We really had our chances, but we kept doing enough."
Oxford also aided the cause with three errors in the fourth. The Chargers were charged with five errors, but they could have had as many as seven. Five errors, 12 hits, and two walks proved way too much to overcome.
"It wasn't that great offensive game, even though you look out there and see seven runs on 12 hits," Boyd said. "But we put the ball in play and got some help. You could tell there was a little something extra left over (offensively) from Monday night."
Will Golsan, Stillman, Stafford, Rooke Coleman, and Lane each had multiple hits. The top six spots in the lineup had 11 of New Hope's 12 hits.
The game was intense from the opening pitch, as the teams had met three times in Class 5A, Region 2 play. Before Thursday's game, the teams had split the last six regular-season matchups in the past two seasons.
"It is quite a rivalry," Boyd said. "We have a lot of respect for them and they have that for us. It really makes the games that much more intense because every time we play it seems like something big is on the line."
During the week, some Oxford players had taken to Twitter with some disparaging remarks about the opposition. Those remarks only made the home team more intense before first pitch.
"The adrenaline was really flowing for this game," Stafford said. "It was standing-room only with fans on both sides lined up all the way down both fences. That is what playoff baseball is all about. It was very intense. We know (tonight) will be the same way. We will have to be ready to go again."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter