May 15, 2015 12:26:28 AM
Home run hitters don't cherish the long ball.
Ask them how many home runs they have hit in practice or in games and they're liable to tell you they don't know because they all run together.
Will Godfrey doesn't have that problem because he isn't a home run hitter -- at least until Thursday night. That's when the junior catcher smacked a walk-off home run to left field in the seventh inning to lift the New Hope High School baseball team to a 1-0 victory against top-ranked Oxford in Game 2 of the best-of-three Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State championship series at Trojan Field.
Godfrey's blast came after he showed bunt on the first pitch of the inning from right-hander Houston Roth. With only two hits as a team up until that point, Godfrey was following the suggestion of New Hope coach Lee Boyd and trying anything in an effort to get something started. Fortunately for the Trojans (25-6), Roth's pitch was low and away for a ball. And while Godfrey showing bunt brought third baseman Jason Barber in a few steps, it also set the stage for Godfrey to be in a good spot to see a fastball.
Still, no one in the park would have imagined Godfrey -- all 5-foot-9, 150 pounds of him -- would go yard. A fastball middle in and belt high changed that thinking in a hurry and set up Game 3 for 7 tonight (weather permitting) at Edwin Moak Field in Oxford
The home run was the first of the season for Godfrey. It also matched the number of home runs he has hit in practice this season. Godfrey offered that fact up quickly and matter of factly, like he had been keeping track all year and was waiting for the right moment to let someone know.
"I knew a fastball was coming because I figured they thought another bunt was coming," Godfrey said. "That is the only pitch he messed up on all night. He is very good. I don't know what to say. I don't know how I feel about it. You couldn't ask for a better time to do it for my first one."
Godfrey said he knew Roth's first pitch was going to be an offspeed pitch based on how Roth pitched him in the first two at-bats -- a fly ball to left field that was dropped and a single in the fourth inning. Tyler Jones' single in the second was New Hope's only other hit. Roth walked two, hit one, and struck out 12. He allowed runners into scoring position in each of the first three innings before settling down and working his slider away to the Trojans.
New Hope coach Lee Boyd felt Roth grew stronger as the game progressed and that his fastball had a little bit more zip on it. That's why he suggested his players try to create something when they went to hit.
"I felt like if we could get a baserunner that the pressure would get to him a little bit and we have a chance to maybe bunt again, hit and run, or get a ball in the dirt and read it and throw it away," Boyd said. "I didn't tell Will to bunt. I just told our guys the third baseman is back, so we at least have to look for the opportunity. He kind of squared and showed it and pulled it back. Luckily he pulled it back.
"Will, I could be wrong, he doesn't hit many, if any, out in batting practice, so he is a guy if you're looking at their scorecard, he has been swinging the bat good but we can't afford to put him on, so let's challenge him and see what happens. That was the last result anybody was expecting."
Godfrey said he didn't go to the plate focused on hitting a home run. Instead, he wanted to play his role and get a single or a double in an attempt to spark a rally. It turned out that Godfrey put such a good swing on the ball that he had a chance to experience something typically reserved for sluggers.
"It felt awesome when it came off the bat" Godfrey said. "I have never done it, so I really didn't know what it felt like. I thought I got a little bit too under it. After I hit first (base) and I looked up, it was gone obviously. That's when I saw everybody throwing their hats and gloves off. It was really exciting. I am really proud to do it for my team. We really needed it."
Godfrey's blast made a winner out of senior right-hander Josh Stillman. Two days after giving up a walk-off two-run home run to catcher Ben Bianco in Oxford's 3-2 victory in Game 1, Stillman allowed only two hits in a complete-game effort. He walked on, hit two, and struck out eight in a 94-pitch effort.
Stillman was most vulnerable in the first three innings when he was working to find his breaking pitch. Oxford (32-1) had its chances before Stillman zeroed in. It had a runner in scoring position in the first, two more in the third, and one more in the fourth. In each inning, Stillman had at least one strikeout to work out of the trouble.
"The first two innings, I could tell (his breaking pitch) wasn't snapping off like I should," Stillman said. "Will came out there a couple of times and I told him I was going to find it, so let me settle in and I am going to find it."
Stillman said he snapped his wrist a little more and he kept his weight back a little longer. The adjustments helped him get a better feel for his breaking pitch. By the end of the game, the difference was big.
"If I can't locate my best offspeed pitch we're not in good shape," Stillman said. "When I found it, I felt I was going to be in a lot better shape the rest of the game."
Boyd admitted he was concerned in the second inning because he felt Stillman wasn't sharp. Even though Stillman threw around 20 pitches Tuesday in relief of Brody Stokes, Boyd said that total was more like 40 pitches when you factor in warmups and pitches between innings. That workload was on Boyd's mind early when Stillman struggled to find his command. Once he found his rhythm, though, Stillman was virtually untouchable.
"He continues to put up zeroes," Boyd said. "I don't know how, but he does. His slider didn't have the bite it usually does.
"I was very concerned he wasn't finding it because if you throw fastballs to Oxford they are going to hit. He finally found it there in the third or fourth inning. It was huge."
Stillman faced one batter over the minimum in the final three innings. He worked around a throwing error in the fifth before capping his evening by starting a 1-6-3 double play to end the seventh. That play set the stage for Godfrey's heroics.
"Throughout the playoffs, he has found hits in big situations to score big runs that we needed," Stillman said. "He has done it throughout the playoffs. He has been our guy. He has been a junior who has stepped up this season, and he found a big hit tonight."
Godfrey admitted he has thought about hitting home runs, but he never imagined he would hit one Thursday night. He cited his size as one reason he didn't envision a home run on the final line of the script. Stillman agreed and called it "crazy" to think the Chargers and Trojans have had walk-off home runs in back-to-back games.
For New Hope, it was an opportunity for an unlikely hero to emerge and deliver a memorable hit in the biggest game of the season.
"It probably exceeds the expectations I had for it," Godfrey said. "I didn't know it would feel this good to do it, and I wouldn't want it to be any team other than them just because of the rivalry."
Said Boyd, "To win our last home game for these seniors in that manner against that team, regardless of what happens tomorrow, it will be remembered for a lifetime."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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