The word “panic” is not in Taylorsville’s vocabulary.
Three weeks into the 2018 season, the Tartars were 0-9. But in that nine-game span, the overwhelming majority of their opponents came from a higher classification—Oak Grove, West Jones, South Jones and Sumrall to name a few.
“We play these big guys all year long,” Taylorsville head coach Dusty Hillman said. “We played them a lot early and started off the season 0-9. Look back at the guys we played. They’re at the top of the 5A and 6A ranks.”
Now, with less than a week left in the regular season, Hillman’s Tartars have won 11 of their last 12 games. Their latest came Thursday night on the road at Petal. Layne Booth and Branson Sharpley each drove in a pair of runs for Taylorsville, who improved to 11-10 with a 5-3 win over the Panthers.
It’s the team’s second win over Petal this season. The first came near the start of their impressive run in mid-March.
“We finally got it together, and now we’re able to play with those guys,” Hillman said. “Our guys have a purpose. Records don’t mean anything. It’s how you finish every year, and that’s what we preach. We try to get better every day, and I think our guys are buying into that.”
In Thursday’s game, the Tartars jumped out to an early, 2-0 lead in the first inning off a two-run double from Sharpley. Petal cut Taylorsville’s lead to one run on two separate occasions shortly after the fast start. Through four innings of play, the Tartars led 3-2.
Then, in the sixth inning, Taylorsville added a pair of much-needed insurance runs off RBI base hits from Booth and Tripp Eaton. With a 5-2 lead, the Tartars left it up to their pitching staff to finish the job.
Kenner Todd got the start on the mound for Taylorsville and struck out five Petal batters in his 5 2/3 innings of work.
“He [Todd] has been big for us in big games all year,” Hillman said. “He comes out and competes every time he comes out there. You can’t ask nothing else out of him, because he’s one of the hardest working guys we got. I’ll stick him out there against anybody.”
In the bottom of the sixth though, with Petal trying to rally, the Tartars turned to Aiden Moffett out of the bullpen. The Panthers had already scored a run in the inning, cutting the lead to 5-3 on a passed ball. With the bases loaded and two out, Petal was looking for much, much more, but a huge strikeout from Moffett ended the threat and kept the Panthers at bay. It came on a 3-2 count with an eighth grader on the mound.
“That’s a 3-2 count against a Petal team with the bases loaded. And he [Moffett] throws a breaking ball for a strike,” Hillman said. “You don’t see many eighth graders that come in and do that for you. He’s pitched well for us all year.”
Moffett stayed on in the seventh, pitching a 1-2-3 inning to preserve Taylorsville’s 5-3 win. Looking forward, the Tartars have three more regular season games to play before the playoffs start. Hillman says he likes the position his team is in with the second season right around the corner.
“We’re doing the little things good offensively. We gotta clean some things up defensively, but our pitching and hitting is keeping us in ballgames.
“I’m excited about it. We’ve seen some big arms through the year playing guys like this. So I feel real good about it.”
On the other side, Petal fell to 12-7 with the loss. The Panthers were led offensively in Thursday’s game by Hunter Dykes and Kane Pickett, who both drove in a run apiece. Cade Law came home to score on a passed ball.