STARKVILLE — Tuesday night was the circle of life for Starkville baseball.
It began offensively with a leadoff solo home run from Ethan Pulliam and ended with a two-run walk-off homer from the senior.
Pulliam cranked a middle-in fastball in the bottom of the first, a moonshot blast over the ‘Starkville Monster’ in left field, but his swing in the seventh was that much bigger.
“I had a feeling that it would come down to me in the last inning,” Pulliam said. “..It feels good. I kind of blacked out as soon as I hit it and I didn’t hear anything around me.”
To that point, Pulliam had never hit a walk-off in his career, so what better a time to do it than in Starkville’s first district game of the season, a rivalry game against Tupelo that saw the Yellow Jackets pull off a 4-3 comeback win.
Pulliam was the straw that stirred the drink offensively, finishing with two hits, three runs scored and three RBIs. He struggled defensively at times for Starkville (9-2, 1-0 in district), but his seventh-inning heroics more than made up for it.
“We made the decision to bump him up to leadoff a couple of weeks ago,” Starkville head coach Luke Adkins said. “So far, we’ve had really good production from the bottom of our lineup, so it’s made for a lot of opportunities for him to be up in crucial spots with runners on base.”
Coming to the plate in that inning, Tupelo (5-8, 0-1 in district) had gone to Lake Reed after a stellar pitching performance from starter Jonathan Rogers.
Rogers held Starkville in check at the plate, striking out 12 over six innings of two-run ball, giving up four hits.
However, he ran into pitch count troubles in the bottom of the sixth as the Jackets were able to work counts and get their second run of the game across.
Tupelo got out of the threat, but it forced the hand of head coach Justin Reed to turn to the bullpen, making the decision to face Pulliam instead of walking him.
“That ball was in the other box,” Reed said. “He just reached out there and got it. We put it where we wanted it, but he’s a D1 player, and he reached out and did what he’s supposed to do and put his team on his back.”
The at-bat began with a breaking pitch over the meat of the plate, and once the senior shortstop saw that, it was green light all the way from that point on.
“[Reed] threw the first get-me-over slider and I saw his eyes get big after it went over for a strike,” Adkins said. “They went back to it again and he was on time for it.”
The comeback win was a massive one for Starkville, coming off a successful spring break trip to Biloxi, and an even better way to start out district play.
With these two teams facing off in Tupelo at 7 p.m. Thursday, it was crucial for the Jackets to set the tone early and defend their home field in a rivalry matchup.
“It was really big for us,” Pulliam said. “Now it gives us confidence. It’s hard to win any game on the road, so we knew we had to win at our place to get the easy one out of the way before we go up to Tupelo on Thursday.”
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