PEARL – Tupelo won its last state championship with a Presley on the mound … Kirk, not Elvis.
Saturday, 24 years later, the Golden Wave turned simply to a Smith – junior left-hander Josh Smith – to defeat Gulfport 3-0 and win the MHSAA Class 6A state championship at Trustmark Park.
“I felt amazing on the mound tonight,” said Smith, who pitched a complete game, gave up four hits, struck out five and walked one. “It was an awesome atmosphere. I had so much energy. My team had so much energy.
“They did their jobs, so I made sure I did my job.”
The victory gave Tupelo (26-11) its first state championship since Presley hurled the Wave to back-to-back titles in 1992 and ’93.
“Josh threw extremely well,” Tupelo senior catcher Ray Sandroni said. “We know if he’s on, he’s one of the best pitchers in the state.”
Tupelo pitching coach Levi Bishop was confident with Smith’s ability to perform on the big stage. Even after a rough start to the fourth inning – Gulfport’s first two batters singled and drew a walk – the coach was all-in with his player.
“It was mechanics stuff,” Bishop said. “I told him to trust what was working and go back to it.”
Smith (4-1) ended the inning with back-to-back strikeouts to strand the Admirals at second and third.
“He’s just a bulldog,” Bishop said. “When it gets down to it, he knows how to deliver.”
Gulfport’s No. 3 hitter, Gabe Lacy, got two of his team’s three hits. He had a single and a double.
“We had seen some lefties this season, but they weren’t as good as this guy was tonight,” Gulfport coach Jamie McMahon said, referring to Smith.
Smith’s defense was there to make plays behind him. The Golden Wave committed no errors.
“Coach talks all the time about defense and the fundamentals of the game,” junior second baseman Gatlin Farrar said. “He says come to play all the time. It paid off today.”
Offensively, Smith got all the run support he would need from the bats of South Sanders and Charlie Greer.
Sanders, a junior third baseman, doubled in Greer in the second. Greer, the senior DH, plated the final two runs in the third with a single to right.
Second-year coach Justin Reed made sure his team was focused on the prize the entire season.
“You’ve got to believe and set your goal,” he said. “We broke down every practice with ‘Trustmark.’ That’s the way we saw ourselves at the end of the year”