May 25, 2014 12:22:13 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
PEARL -- New Hope High School senior baseball player Taylor Stafford had a feeling his team's bats were going to come alive Saturday night at Trustmark Park.
However, Stafford stayed quiet about the subject to ensure junior Josh Stillman pitched the game of his life in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state championship.
Turns out the bats and Stillman did their parts.
New Hope scored six runs in the first inning and cruised to an 11-0, five-inning victory against West Jones to take the best-of-three series.
New Hope (32-4) won its seventh baseball state championship and repeated as champions for the first time in program
"Six runs in the first inning are really nice. I would like six runs when I pitch," Stafford said. "I felt like we could get plenty of runs tonight. In the first two games of the series, we have not scored a lot. But in each series, we have a game where we really break out, so I knew this was our chance to have that break-out game. It came at a good time."
In the opening inning, Will Golsan led off with a single. Stillman then reached base on the first of four errors by West Jones. With runs at a premium in the series, Stafford sacrificed both runners into scoring position. A cavalcade of hits followed. Rooke Coleman had an RBI single. Wells Davis delivered a hard-hit ground ball that West Jones threw home but failed to get an out. Back-to-back RBI singles by Payton Lane and Jake Hollis gave New Hope a 4-0 lead. A wild pitch allowed another run to score, and a sacrifice fly by J.C. Redden plated another.
"We had been waiting for an inning like that," said Lane, a junior. "Coaches have been trying to keep us loose all weekend. You can't help but play a little intense because it is the state championship. After the first inning, Josh was settled in and we knew we had it."
Stillman may have been even more than settled in. The hard-throwing junior right-hander needed five pitches in the first and only 44 pitches in the game. West Jones (25-12) broke up the perfect game with a leadoff single in the fifth. Two pitches later, a double play ball was turned between Golsan and Parker Earhart in the middle infield. Two more pitches later, New Hope was dog piling for the second time in eight days, and for a second-straight season at Trustmark Park.
"I felt really great tonight," Stillman said. "After the first inning, it was a different game. That inning was so huge. After that inning, we both kept throwing up zeroes and we had to stay intense and focused. We had to make sure this one didn't get away."
For a second-straight game, New Hope put the game on lockdown. Redden threw a four-hit shutout Friday in a 3-0 win that evened the series. The Mustangs failed to score in the final 12 innings of the series and advanced only one runner into scoring position in that stretch.
"We played in the final high school baseball game of the season," West Jones coach Joey Ward said. "I am so proud of our kids for that. They persevered and overcame so often throughout the season when things could have gone the other way. They kept battling and believing. We saw the complete arsenal from New Hope. We saw everything. We saw why they have won a championship two straight seasons."
In the fourth, the Trojans showed why their pitching depth was superior in the series. New Hope touched three pitchers for five runs in the inning to help set the stage for its third run-rule win in the postseason.
Earhart and Golsan set the table with hits. Two more errors aided the cause. A ground ball out by Stillman scored a run, while a bases-loaded walk scored another. Lane then brought the black and gold clad throng to a major roar with a three-run double to the left-center field gap.
"It was our kind of offensive game," said Hollis, a senior catcher. "We go into each game with the mind-set of beating each team as badly as we can. Even when we don't have a good offensive game, we are going to come out firing in the next game. We felt like we had the championship all along, but it was really good to come out and make a statement. I had much rather catch five innings instead of seven."
New Hope suffered only one loss in the final 57 days of the season. Coach Lee Boyd knew the special nature of his team last season. However, the right buttons had to be pushed and the hits had to fall in the right place for New Hope to survive two three-game playoff series and five series overall.
This season, the Trojans breathed much easier with an 8-1 finish to the postseason, including two state championship series wins that weren't in doubt in the final inning.
"All I did was coach third base," Boyd said. "What you saw tonight is how really special this team is. They had a determination and focus like no other team I coached or played on. If it had to happen, it happened. It was an unselfish group. It was a special group. It was a group which deserved everything that happened this season."
New Hope played its best baseball facing elimination in the state championship series. After a stunning 5-4 loss in Game 1, New Hope dominated all phases and moved to kissing trophies and to planning postseason parties after the 1-hour, 14-minute finale.
"We let (West Jones) have one inning in the series," Stillman said. "Other than that, we played like champions."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter