STARKVILLE — Starkville Academy commemorated the first night of the 2021 NFL draft by scoring two touchdowns and a field goal.
Not bad for a baseball game.
The Volunteers scored seven runs in the first and fourth innings, plated three in the second and added one for good measure in the third en route to an 18-8 run-rule win over Pillow Academy in Thursday’s Game 2 of a second-round MAIS Class 4A playoff series.
“We put some great swings on it and got the job done,” junior Randall Futral said.
Futral smacked one of four Volunteers home runs — and his first of the season — as Starkville Academy advanced to the Class 4A north state championship series. The Vols await either Bayou Academy or Magnolia Heights, with the Chiefs currently holding a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three set.
“We’re seeing it good — just locked in for two more wins, and we’ll get to play for it all,” Starkville Academy coach Thomas Berkery said.
The Vols came in laser focused on offense once again after a 7-4 win in Tuesday’s Game 1 in Greenwood. They matched their scoring total in the first inning alone as Will McReynolds and Porter Skelton smashed two-run homers to give the Vols a quick 7-2 lead.
But Pillow was down but not out. J.C. Garrard answered in a big way against Starkville Academy’s Drew Williams, sending a grand slam out to left center field to tie the game 7-all in the top of the second.
“We knew they were going to come out fighting after we took Game 1 and they were going to give it their best,” Futral said. “We knew that coming in, and we weren’t going to quit.”
With one out in the bottom of the inning, Ayden Alsobrooks tucked a solo homer inside the right-field line to give the Vols the lead back. Futral followed by taking Pillow’s Michael Jeffcoat deep to left-center to double the advantage.
Futral has started to get into the swing of things after joining the baseball team late once basketball season ended in the state championship game. Berkery said he was glad to have both Futral and Alsobrooks producing in the middle of the order.
“Ayden’s really started to heat up in the past couple games, and Randy’s just hitting his stride,” Berkery said. “As much as anything, I’m happy to see him hit one and kind of get the monkey off the back in the home run department.”
Starkville Academy added a run later in the inning when Pillow catcher Matthew Jeffcoat misfired on a back-pick attempt at first base. But a three-run lead almost proved not to be enough.
Eli Simmons got the Mustangs back within two runs with a solo shot off Williams with one out in the third. In the fourth after pinch-runner Brody Pierce scored for the Vols on a wild pitch, Pillow put two men on with one out, sending Dayne Sanford to the plate representing the tying run.
With Williams — recently returned from injury — near his pitch count, Berkery made the move on the mound, summoning Skelton to the hill from third base. The junior rewarded his coach, getting a flyout from Sanford and striking out Simmons after a two-out walk to load the bases.
“We felt like at that point that Porter was our most consistent strike-thrower,” Berkery said. “… Porter came in and did a great job filling it up.”
Starkville Academy put the game away with a lengthy bottom of the fourth at the plate. Colby Allen, Alsobrooks and Wyatt Johnson all had RBI singles, and a walk, sac fly and hit batsman brought in runs in a seven-run inning.
The Vols ended it on strong outfield defense as both Jeffcoats and Gavin Lessley hit the ball well but came up empty, resulting in a quick 1-2-3 inning to end the game on the run rule.
It was another strong performance by a Starkville Academy team that has become known for them.
“We’ve got a really solid group one through nine, and they compete,” Berkery said. “We’ve pressed them really hard just to be the more mature, more composed team in every game we go to.”
That task might become harder as the pressure ratchets up along with the level of competition.
But whether it’s Bayou or Mag Heights, the Vols are looking forward to it.
“It feels amazing moving on to north state knowing that we’ll face a good team,” Futral said.