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Story By Robert Wilson
Photos by Chris Todd
FLOWOOD – Hartfield Academy had eight hits off the No. 1 player in the country in his class – Jackson Prep freshman right-hander Konnor Griffin – the most of any team this season, but the Hawks still weren’t able to pull off the upset of the No. 21 team in the nation.
Four-time defending MAIS state champion Prep scored five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and defeated Hartfield 7-2 to win its second game of the Class 6A Conference three-game series Friday night at Prep.
Prep, which won the third game of the series and second game of the doubleheader 9-2, improved to 20-4 overall and 5-1 in conference play. Hartfield dropped to 15-7 and 3-3 in conference play. Prep, behind the pitching of senior right-hander and Mississippi State signee Will Gibbs (allowed only three hits and no runs with eight strikeouts in six innings) and the hitting of junior center fielder and MSU commitment Rives Reynolds (a two-run home run and a double) defeated Hartfield 6-0 in the first game Monday at Hartfield.
Friday night’s first game was a tight one until the sixth. Prep scored one run in the second inning (senior shortstop Owen Abney’s sacrifice fly scored senior left fielder and Louisiana Monroe signee Trey Bridges) and one run in the third (senior second baseman Duncan Mathews’ single scored Griffin) to take a 2-0 lead. But Hartfield bounced back to tie the game at 2-2 in the fifth when junior second baseman Garrett Jackson hit an RBI double and senior third baseman and Hinds Community College signee Bran Boyd hit an RBI single.
Hartfield sophomore left-handed pitcher Cole Stumph – who entered the game with a 4-0 record and a 2.16 earned run average this season – had limited Prep to two hits through the first five innings. But Stumph, whose twin brother Sam Stumph was the starting catcher Friday (the starting catcher Monday, Carter Biggers, is injured), ran into trouble in the sixth. With two outs, Abney ripped a double and senior right fielder and Northwest CC signee Cy Craig was hit by pitch. Hartfield coach Justin Smith decided to pull Stumph and brought in senior right-hander and Hinds CC signee Alex McGarrh – a member of the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team. But McGarrh was not only making first appearance since early in the season, but he was also pitching with a torn labrum. It was a tough outing for McGarrh. Griffin hit an RBI double, Matthews a two RBI double and senior catcher and Louisiana Tech signee Eli Berch hit a two-run home run to make it 7-2 before McGarrh could record an out.
Senior right-hander Ford McDaniel replaced Griffin in the seventh and allowed one hit and no runs and has now allowed only two earned runs in 12 appearances this season. Griffin got the win to improve to 5-1. He allowed eight hits – he had only allowed 11 hits in his other seven starts – and had nine strikeouts and no walks. He has 45 walks with only nine walks in 29 1/3 innings this season.
“Hartfield is a great team, and they swing it good,” said Griffin, who is rated as the No. 1 player in the country in his class by Perfect Game and was hitting 90 miles per hour or more on most of his fastballs. “They had eight hits off me. Our energy wasn’t too high early in the game, but we came alive in that last inning.”
“Some of our hitters got frustrated. He (Stumph) did a really good job of keeping us off balance,” Prep coach Brent Heavener said. “We stayed back and drove the ball up the middle in the sixth inning. That was a big-time moment for Konnor. Runners at second and third and two outs and he was able to get the big hit and take the lead.”
“It was Alex’s first time back out on the mound and he’s one of our best, so we figured let’s just go with him,” first-year Hartfield coach Justin Smith said. “He left the ball up in the zone and gave them chances and missed some spots, but that’s to be expected when you haven’t thrown off the mound in two weeks. I feel good where he will be at the end of the year.”
“We attacked Konnor’s fastball pretty well, maybe not his second and third pitch. We wanted to the count until we got an advantage count and then do some damage with it. Hitting his fastball helped our confidence, then one or two guys got hits, it trickled down to everyone else and it got contagious.”
Hartfield’s leadoff hitter, senior shortstop Will Purvis, and Boyd each had two hits.
Hartfield is playing without one of its best players – senior outfielder and MSU signee Colton Bradley – who had ankle surgery two weeks ago and is out of the season. Bradley was a member of the Preseason Elite 11 Team.
Griffin had two doubles and raised his batting average to .411 this season. He now is tied for the team lead with Mathews, who had a double and a single, with eight doubles.
Prep scored seven runs in the first inning in the third game of the series and wasn’t threatened. The Patriots had 13 hits. Craig was the winning pitcher.