May 12, 2018 11:05:56 PM
KOSCIUSKO -- Payton Springfield knew the New Hope High School baseball team needed him.
If Springfield was good enough Friday night, he could help the Trojans secure a spot in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A State championship series at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
After a tumultuous regular season, Springfield showed again that the playoffs are his time to shine.
Springfield threw 4 2/3 hitless innings as part of a complete-game effort in New Hope's 9-3 victory against Kosciusko in Game 2 of the Class 4A North State championship series.
New Hope (29-5) will face Vancleave, which swept East Central in the South State title series, at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Game 1 of the best-of-three series. New Hope will be gunning for its eighth state championship.
New Hope coach Lee Boyd and Springfield agreed the timing was right for the junior right-hander to deliver his best outing of the season.
"I mean this in all respect to him, he did not have the best regular season that we kind of hoped he would have, but in the playoffs he's been good," Boyd said after Springfield kept Kosciusko (18-15) scoreless through 5 2/3 innings. The victory allowed New Hope to complete a four-game sweep of Region 4 rival Kosciusko this season.
"I've had times where I couldn't find it, and that was a time when we really needed it, and I found that breaking ball tonight," Springfield said.
Springfield showed his breaking pitch early and often as he struck out five. Normally, Springfield likes to work off his fastball and changeup and mix in a breaking pitch when he's ahead in the count, but his command of it was so good Friday he was getting called strikes on it as early as 0-1 counts.
"It's kind of a hard slider and when he's ahead, it's a tough pitch to handle," Boyd said. "I thought his velocity was up a little bit, he was up to 83, 84, 85 when he's normally around 81 or 82."
Much like New Hope's 9-8 win Thursday night, the final innings didn't come without a little trouble.
Springfield didn't allow a hit -- a single to right field -- until the fifth. The shot was right at Tyler Murphy, who saw the runner make a big turn around first base and threw the ball in and erase him before the lead runner could score.
"I knew they would come back. They're a really good team. They're scrappy," Springfield said. "Their two-strike is really good. They pull back the bunt and slap the other way."
Springfield had to navigate more trouble in the sixth, even though the inning could have ended in five pitches. After retiring the first two batters in four pitches, his fifth was grounded to the shortstop, but the throw pulled the first baseman's foot off the bag. Kosciusko used two walks and a single to get on the scoreboard. Springfield forced the next batter to pop up to second baseman Drew Pounders.
Springfield escaped a similar jam in the second after three two-out walks loaded the bases, but he forced a fly out to left field.
That out came after Springfield received more run support than he needed.
New Hope scored in the first on back-to-back doubles by Murphy and Pounders. The Trojans broke the game open with a five-run second. Springfield led it off with a single, catcher Cade Odom singled, and designated hitter Xavier Harrison walked to load the bases. Shortstop Nick Sims blasted a two-run double off the fence. First baseman Bryce Braddock added a two-run double.
Even with the run support, Springfield faced pressure in the final inning. The MHSAA doesn't allow any pitcher to throw more than 120 pitches in a game. Likely staring down his last batter due to his pitch count, Springfield struck him out in five pitches to end the game just short of 120 pitches.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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