As a former Ole Miss baseball star with a 10-year run in the minor leagues, St. Martin High School coach Kary Bridges has a good idea of what it takes to make the climb to the next level.
In St. Martin senior pitcher Leif Moore, Bridges sees more than enough talent to make the leap to Division I college baseball.
“You probably hear this all around from coaches that scratch their heads,” Bridges said. “It was a long time ago, but I played SEC baseball and (Moore) can pitch at some Division I places. I’ve seen him get people out.”
Moore is off to one of the hottest starts you can imagine for a high school pitcher and he’s doing in Class 6A — the highest level of competition in the state of Mississippi. With the 12-1 win at D’Iberville Tuesday night, Moore had his record improve to 6-0 with six complete-game starts and his ERA dipped to a minuscule 0.38 in 37 innings.
Moore, who signed with Pearl River Community College in November, acknowledged Tuesday night that no Division I college coaches have approached him since he inked with the Wildcats. If they want to talk, he said he’s willing to listen.
The right-hander tossed a six-inning complete game at D’Iberville Tuesday night, striking out seven and walking none. He allowed three hits and the Warriors’ lone run of the night was unearned in the first inning.
Of all the impressive stats that Moore has compiled thus far, none are more impressive than the fact that he has struck out 65 batters and walked one.
That’s right. He has issued one walk through 37 innings on the mound this season.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Moore gives a simple explanation for his ability to avoid giving up free passes this season.
“I just focus on the mitt and pound the strike zone,” he said.
Moore was a workhorse for the Yellow Jackets in 2018, finishing 8-3 with a 2.58 ERA in 13 appearances. He had 89 strikeouts and 18 walks in 62 1/3 innings.
He showed good control a year ago, but this year’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is off the charts on any level of competition.
“He hits the spots about 90-95 percent of the time,” St. Martin senior catcher R.J. Fletcher said. “He makes my job a lot easier.”
A significant improvement in his fastball has allowed Moore to challenge hitters in the strike zone more often this season. After consistently topping out around 89 miles per hour a year ago, he has thrown as fast as 93 this year.
On Tuesday night in cool weather, his fastball reached 91.
“I can hit my spots better and hit them harder,” Moore said. “It’s first-pitch strike every time. I just throw it over the plate. If they hit it, they hit it. If they don’t, they don’t.”
Moore saw his velocity take a significant uptick after going through an offseason throwing program that involved long tosses and the use of resistance bands.
While a quicker fastball has been a difference-maker, Moore’s accuracy has allowed him to join the company of some of the state’s top high school pitchers.
“He’s consistent with his fastball, consistent with his breaking ball and consistent around the plate,” Bridges said. “We always have a chance with him on the mound for sure.
“It’s not all about velocity. He’s also making better 0-2, 1-2 pitches. His location on those pitches is getting better. He’s not getting too many hitting counts. Early in his career, he’d get to those and lose concentration. Very seldom is he giving a hitter a hitter’s count other than 0-0. He’s not easy to hit off.”
Moore complements his fastball with a 12-6 curve ball that drops off the table along with a slider and a change.
With a strong repertoire of pitches and pinpoint accuracy, Bridges acknowledges that he has never had a high school pitcher reach Moore’s level of consistency.
“Not in my 15 years (as a coach),” Bridges said. “I had Scott Weathersby at Oak Grove and he pitched at Ole Miss. He didn’t walk many people, but (Moore) just doesn’t give hitting counts. He makes it tough.”
In the hunt
St. Martin, which sits at 14-4 overall and 4-1 in Region 8-6A, has a shot to challenge in a difficult southern half of the state that includes George County, Biloxi and Oak Grove.
St. Martin features a strong No. 2 pitching option in UAB signee Leo Harris, who is 2-1 with a 1.54 ERA in four appearances.
Fletcher entered Tuesday night’s game with three homers and 17 RBIs and senior third baseman Brennen Study is the centerpiece of the lineup, hitting .439 with 19 runs scored. Moore, who plays shortstop when he’s not pitching, is hitting .387 with 15 RBIs.
Freshman center fielder Dane Dutil is hitting .400 with a team-leading 18 RBIs.
“We’re got a great senior core,” Fletcher said. “(Winning state) has been a goal of ours since we’ve been in high school. We put in put in extra work this year. We know that it’s our last try and we’ll do whatever it takes.”