High School Sports

Game 1 of St. Martin-DeSoto Central came down to a hard-fought pitchers’ duel

St. Martin senior right-hander Leif Moore did little wrong in the biggest start of his high school career, but there’s no room for error for the Yellow Jackets against a team as talented as DeSoto Central.

The defending state champion Jaguars (33-3) topped St. Martin 3-1 Wednesday night in Game 1 of the Class 6A state title series behind an outstanding pitching performance by junior right-hander Cade Smith at Trustmark Park.

The Yellow Jackets (27-8) will look to even the series in Game 2 at 4 p.m. on Friday. If necessary, Game 3 will follow on Saturday with a start time that is still to be determined.

St. Martin jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Brennen Study ripped a triple over the left fielder’s head to bring in R.J. Fletcher, who reached base on a one-out single.

From that point forward, St. Martin didn’t manage another hit.

Smith gave up one run on two hits, striking out 10 and walking none to earn the complete-game victory. He used a fastball that consistently stayed in the low 90’s to keep a red hot St. Martin lineup in check.

“I thought he was phenomenal,” DeSoto Central coach Mark Monaghan said. “He pitched with a lot of confidence. He commanded all three pitches and had zero walks. He has really good stuff and it all came together for him.”

Moore put St. Martin in position to compete Wednesday night, giving up three runs on seven hits. He struck out five and walked none.

The decisive moment came with two out and two men on in the bottom of the first when a high fly ball off the bat of DeSoto Central’s Alex Frillman made its way into shallow center field. Shortstop Leo Harris was the closest man to the ball, but it dropped to the ground untouched for a single to allow two runs to score.

“People watching at home think that’s an easy play,” St. Martin coach Kary Bridges said. “When that ball is high on a big field like this and the outfielders are spread out, it’s different. That’s not an easy play.”

Behind Smith, DeSoto Central made that lead hold up. That Jaguars added some cushion in the bottom of the sixth on a two-out RBI single by Frillman to set the score at 3-1.

Even though Moore came out on the losing end, the Pearl River Community College signee proved that he could do battle with a lineup that includes a Tennessee commit in junior center fielder Kyle Booker, one of the nation’s top sophomores in third baseman Blaze Jordan and Mississippi State signee Kamren James at shortstop.

Of Moore’s 78 pitches, 54 were for strikes.

“You could almost argue that it was his best outing,” Bridges said. “He didn’t throw a lot of pitches. They’re really good. They can really swing the bat. He proved that he can get anybody out. There are D1 hitters on that team that he got out. Folks who don’t think he can pitch at that level, well he’s getting their hitters out.”

Moore’s fastball hit around 89 miles an hour as he did a good job of working the edges of the strike zone all night.

“It does give me a lot of confidence,” Moore said of his performance against DCHS. “It makes me feel like I should have D1 (offers), but it is what is.”

Mongahan was noncommittal about his starting pitcher for Friday’s game, but Bridges said that he plans go with Harris.

Harris, a senior UAB signee, has been at his best in the postseason. He is 6-4 with a 2.37 ERA.

“I have tons of confidence (in Harris),” Bridges said. “He’s done it all year. He’s done it with his back against the wall before. Leo is going to pitch well Friday. I’m not concerned at all.”

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.