STARKVILLE — Facing elimination, the Starkville Yellow Jackets extended their season against a team that had only lost once all season coming into Friday night’s game.
Mason Thurlow was the hero for Starkville, lacing an infield hit to secure a walk-off 3-2 Game 2 victory for the Yellow Jackets in their MHSAA Class 6A playoff series with top-seeded Madison Central in Starkville.
Thurlow stepped into the box in the bottom of the seventh, having already struck out twice earlier in the game, facing tremendous pressure. Starkville had loaded the bases with no outs for Thurlow, with a chance to steal one from Madison Central after suffering a blowout 14-1 loss in Game 1 the night prior. Thurlow battled to get the count to three balls and two strikes, and then he swung away at the payoff pitch, sending a chopper to the second baseman. Chipper Hornburger came flying down the third base line and scored ahead of the tag. The Jackets had snatched a victory right out of the Jaguars’ hands.
“The previous at bat, he threw me fastballs and he just blew it by me, so I knew I had to make an adjustment,” Thurlow said. “Going into that at bat, I just tried to throw my bat at it, put it in play and maybe get a chopper or a liner over his head and that’s exactly what I got.”
Going into Friday night, the Jackets had their backs against the wall after getting boat-raced by Madison Central the night prior in Madison. Starkville battled in order to stave off elimination, as the Jaguars jumped on the board in the second, thanks to Braden Montgomery crushing a ball over the right center field wall. Madison Central continued to work, now up 1-0 in the top of the third, with Jake Cook standing on second base, Hunter Hines singled him home to take a 2-0 lead. As things looked like they might unravel, Starkville pitcher Ethan Pulliam gathered himself and got a strikeout to end the inning.
With Pulliam settling in, it was time for Starkville to get back into the game. In the bottom of the fifth, Caden Tate drew a walk and Banks Perry singled through the right side. An error on the attempt to pick off Tate at second allowed him to move up 90 feet. This set up what should have been a double play, as Brennon Wright hit a grounder to the second baseman. Instead of getting a twin-killing, the second baseman booted the ball, allowing Tate to score and all runners were safe on the play. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners over and an intentional walk loaded the bases. Madison Central brought in Austin Tommasini, ending the night for Ranard Grace, who had been stellar up until the jam in the fifth. Tommasini threw a wild pitch to his first batter and Perry came in to score. The inning ended on two strikeouts, but the Jackets had made it a brand new game.
“They had that early home run, and coach just said we can’t get too down, because last night we went down by a lot, but we knew we were in it the whole game, put some good swings on the ball, got baserunners on, and capitalized when we needed to,” said Thurlow.
After six strong innings on the mound, Pulliam’s night was finished, as Jackson Owen ditched the catcher’s gear to climb the mound and try to give Starkville one last shot to win the game. Owen ran into a little bit of trouble, allowing a walk, and intentionally walking Montgomery to bring up Connor Chisolm. Owen struck out Chisolm, and the Starkville faithful rose to their feet because they knew the Jackets only needed one run to win.
The Jackets took advantage of the mistakes made by Madison Central late in the game to shock the Jaguars, as it was only their second loss on the season. The Jaguars could only look on in disbelief as the Yellow Jackets chased Thurlow all the way to the outfield after his big hit, as there was no doubt that he was the man of the hour.
“That’s something we’ve preached in the program, it’s the last at bats of the game, those are the ones that matter,” said Starkville head coach Luke Adkins. “This is probably a marquee win, not just since I’ve been here, but for the program in general,”
Starkville’s win sets up a winner-take-all game three in Madison on Saturday at 7 p.m.