Before Game 2 of the Class 2A South State series, Taylorsville baseball coach Dusty Hillman issued a warning to his team.
“We’ve been coming over here a long time,” said Hillman. “And I told my kids before we ever got off the bus, that bunch right there (St. Joe) will not go away easily. And we saw that. Those kids get after it, and they never quit. They could have folded up [there in the seventh], but they kept fighting.”
Leading 7-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning Monday night, Taylorsville watched helplessly as St. Joe put up a five-spot to force extra baseball. In the next frame, Taylorsville reclaimed momentum when senior Chandler Cline blooped a two-out RBI single to shallow centerfield, despite the best efforts by diving St. Joe outfielder Cooper Chaplain. Forward momentum caused the ball to pop out of Chaplain’s glove, resulting in the go-ahead run-scoring single.
Ky Buckley, who had never pitched in postseason play before Monday night, closed the game out in relief as Taylorsville defeated St. Joe 8-7 in Game 2 to sweep the 2A South State series.
“Our kids had a lot to go against them tonight,” said Hillman. “We had a tough break on a bad hop, a tough break on a collision at second base, but our guys kept cool heads and finished the ball game.
“It’s big when you have a guy step up and finished the game [on the mound], who I don’t know when the last time he’s pitched. Then the last out of the game was made by a guy who played infield for the first time in his whole career at Taylorsville.”
After a four-year hiatus, Taylorsville advances to the 2A Championship series at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The last title the Tartars brought home was in 2014, sweeping Eupora 10-6 and 7-1.
“I give all the credit to our guys,” added Hillman. “They’ve worked their tails off all year for this. It’s big. We haven’t been to Pearl in a while when the season starts, that’s our goal. That’s what people come to expect in Taylorsville, MS. We have kids that work towards that, and we expect that.”
Game 2 began last Saturday night in Madison. Light rain fell throughout the five-plus innings that were played before heavier rains suspended play. Taylorsville led 3-0 in the bottom of the fifth when play was halted with St. Joe threatening. Aiden Moffett threw the entire five and one-third innings that were played on Saturday.
When play resumed on Monday night, the Bruins started with runners on first and second and one out and its cleanup batter Steven Wolf facing a 3-1 count against new Taylorsville pitcher Kenner Todd. Wolf barreled Todd’s first pitch up the middle, scoring St. Joe’s first run of the contest. Todd got out of the jam though, forcing St. Joe into a double play.
Taylorsville answered with three runs in the top of the sixth, mostly in part to control issues by St. Joe relief pitcher Wyatt Buck, who like Todd started Monday night’s action. Buck surrender the three Tartar runs on two walks and three hit batters in consecutive fashion. The three-run inning put Taylorsville on top, 6-1.
“We knew we’d have to come out and score runs,” said Hillman. “They got a run in the first inning we played tonight. But we got out of the situation we were in and answered by putting runs on the board. That is what we’ve been preaching all week. We needed to put runs on the board, and we did that.
Both teams traded runs in the next two frames, building up to St. Joe’s five-run bottom of the seventh that sent the game into extra innings. Chandler Cline replaced Todd in the bottom frame of the seventh, and with the potential game-winning run on second base, forced the Bruins into a groundout to push extras.
Offensively, Taylorsville was led by Cline at the plate with two base hits, his latter scoring the go-ahead run that eventually won the game. Branson Sharpley led in runs scored though with three.
Sharpley, Buckley, Karson Evans, Raven Arrington, and Walker Gable had one hit each in the win.
At Trustmark Park in Pearl, Taylorsville (26-9) will face the North Champion Calhoun City (29-3) for the Class 2A Championship best-of-three series.
Hillman said his team’s sweep of South State allows for some needed rest.
“We’ll get at least one day of rest,” Hillman said. “Right now we haven’t heard the true schedule yet. But I feel like our pitching is in order. We’ll get Aiden Moffett back, Walker [Gable] back, and even Chandler Cline, who didn’t throw much tonight will have a day’s rest. So we’ll be ready for Game 1 and 2. Kenner Todd may have to have a day or two, and we can throw Buckley in there now with what we’ve seen from him tonight.”