Stafford To Lead New Hope Into Championship

New Hope (Columbus, MS) High School head baseball coach Lee Boyd and senior Taylor Stafford, a Mississippi State signee, will try and lead New Hope to its second straight state championship this week against West Jones High School beginning 7 pm Thursday night at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Mississippi.


New Hope High School head baseball coach Lee Boyd talked about his upcoming state championship series against West Jones High School beginning Thursday night at 7 pm at Trustmark Park in Pearl, MIssissippi. He also talked about his talented senior outfielder/pitcher Taylor Stafford, a future Mississippi State baseball Bulldog.

New Hope High School baseball has a great tradition. You are continuing that tradition with your second straight state championship appearance. And your team won the state championship last season. What has it been like to achieve what you have during your five years at New Hope?
Head Coach Lee Boyd - "Honestly, it has been surreal. I took the job at age 26 and I was scared to death. But when you feel God pulling you to do something you do it. He brought a 26-year-old kid in there and he's taken care of me so far. I've been blessed to get back (to the state championship) for a second (straight) year.

"I told my guys at the beginning of the year to repeat (as state champions) is about a 16% to 17% chance. To give us that opportunity we were going to have to work harder than we did last year. And I give a lot of credit to my kids for doing that. They worked hard and we were also fortunate to get some breaks. Now, we are back here."

One of those guys who helped you reach this level is Taylor Stafford, a senior who will be playing for Mississippi State next season. You've coached him since he was in the 8th grade. What has he meant to your program?
"He has been a four-year starter for us. He started in the 9th grade at centerfield. I knew he was going to be a special player for us. He played on the 9th grade team as an 8th grader. He hit a home run or two. And I felt he was going to be good. I just didn't know how good. I put him in the lineup his freshman year and I think he hit something like .375 with 5 home runs in the leadoff spot. He led the team in RBIs. That was back when the bats were still hot. But he still hit 5 home runs as a freshman. And he didn't even play the first couple of games for us. We put him in the game and the first game he had two singles from the 9 hole spot (in the lineup). His numbers improved every year although his homer numbers have gone down a little bit, probably because he has been in the three-hole spot and people (throw him) off-speed (pitches).

"And defensively, you won't find a better centerfielder in my opinion. He gets an unbelievable jump on the baseball. He runs a lot of balls down that a lot of guys can't get to. Even on the mound he has been great for us. Last year, he won game-three in the state championship series. This year, I believe he is 7-0 and he's won most of our big games. And I hope he also does that this week."

I know he has a lot of talent but considering the amount of pressure he has been under playing defense, hitting third in the lineup and also pitching in big games for you he must really be cool under pressure?
"This year is really the first year that we have started him on the mound. He's been the closer since his 9th grade year. We closed him his 9th and 10th grade years and most of last year. We have put him in pressure situations.

"I remember the first game we brought him in as the closer. It was against Brookwood, Alabama. It was a 7-6 ballgame. He said, 'you want me to pitch?' I said, 'yes, we need you.' And he closed that game out. I don't know his career stats. He's probably got something like 10 or 11 saves and 17 or 18 wins on the mound. He's done a tremendous job for us."

It sounds like he was playing like a senior his freshman season. How has a guy like that improved from year to year?
"The thing about Taylor is he is such a humble kid. He was all-stat his freshman year. A lot of kids might think I'm good where I am, so they don't think they have to work hard anymore. But Taylor is not like that. He's known every year that he had to get better.

"Obviously, when you are going to Mississippi State and start getting more recognition that brings more pressure. So, he's had to deal with that some this year. And he's done a great job of handling that. I think the mentality that he has of handling those type things is what has improved the most."

What did the coach who recruited him for Mississippi State tell you that he liked about Taylor?
"I talked to Coach (Butch) Thompson. I received calls from him throughout Taylor's sophomore and junior years because they had their eye on him. He went to a Labor Day Camp there (last year). Coach Thompson called me as soon as the Labor Day Camp was over and told me that they were going to do something with Taylor. He really showed them something with his bat.

"Taylor is on cloud nine now because Mississippi State is where he has always wanted to go."

What are your expectations from him when he plays at Mississippi State?
"In my opinion, there is no question that he can outfield for Mississippi State. I believe the biggest adjustment for him is catching up with 92 (miles per hour fastballs) on a consistent basis. In high school you see 83, 84 and 85. And he does fine against those type pitchers. But seeing 90, 91 and 92 on a consistent basis will be his biggest adjustment. You don't see that in high school."


Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.


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