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By JOEL COLEMAN
One inning after being left at third base as Starkville High let a bases-loaded opportunity slip through its fingers, Jordan Allgood was determined to finally deliver the big hit the Yellowjackets so desperately needed.
Down to his final strike with two outs and the bases full again, the SHS junior second baseman delivered.
With the Jackets trailing 2-1, Allgood's bases-clearing, three-run triple to right in the fifth inning turned out to be the critical blow as Starkville ultimately edged South Panola 5-3 Friday night at Yellowjacket Field.
The win gave the Jackets (6-10, 1-5 in Class 6A, Region 2) their first division win of the season.
"I've been telling the guys that somebody has got to step up," said Allgood. "I got up there with the bases loaded and got a couple of outside pitches and fought them off, then I got one more. I was looking for something to drive the other way and it got by (the right fielder's) glove and I was just hauling. Somebody had to step up and I'm glad I could do it."
Allgood's clutch hit was a welcome sight to SHS head coach Danny Carlisle who had seen his team waste opportunity after opportunity in district play this season, including the Jackets' blown chance one frame prior.
After Allgood drew a two-out walk in the fourth ahead of singles by Hayden Higginbotham and Max Bartlett, Garrett Batson was struck out by South Panola starting pitcher Lee Self to end the threat.
With his chance to shine in the fifth, Allgood came through, sending a sigh of relief through the Starkville dugout.
"We finally got that big hit," said Carlisle. "I want to say in division ballgames...we've had the bases loaded 10 times and didn't get anything out of it. That's the first time we've got a hit with the bases loaded. Surely our luck had to change somewhere. Instead of living with a rabbit's foot, we've had a possum foot or something."
Aside from the momentum boost it provided, Allgood's heroics allowed the Jackets to make a winner out of starting pitcher Nathan Pugh.
Pugh went the distance for Starkville, recovering after a shaky second inning that spotted South Panola a 2-0 lead.
"(Carlisle) told me to just go out there and throw strikes and I did it," said Pugh. "We did it tonight. We pulled through and found a way to win the game. That's what we needed."
Not lost on Pugh was the hit by Allgood that finally allowed the SHS southpaw to take the mound and pitch with a lead.
"After that, I just had a bunch of confidence," said Pugh. "I felt good and felt like I was throwing the ball a lot harder and locating it better."
After the game, Carlisle heaped praise on Pugh's performance.
"Just an outstanding job," said Carlisle. "Somebody asked me how long I was going to go with him and I said as long as (Pugh) can. It's late in the season and he did a great job and kept hitters off balance. He's worked hard to get here and hopefully this is a little momentum builder for all of us."
Before Pugh was able to close out the game however, South Panola (13-6, 3-3 in Class 6A, Region 2) gave Starkville a scare with a sixth-inning rally.
Chance Whitten led off the frame with a double for the Tigers and ultimately came around to score to cut the Jackets' lead to just one at 4-3.
Thanks to a pair of Starkville errors, South Panola put both the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base with two outs before Pugh got Michell Babb to pop out to end the threat.
The Jackets pushed across an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth.
With two outs, Victor Johnson doubled down the left field line, took third on a wild pitch, then scored on a balk by South Panola relief pitcher Hunter Durham.
Pugh sat down the Tigers in order in the seventh to cement the win for Starkville.
In Carlisle's eyes, the victory keeps Starkville in the hunt for the Class 6A playoffs as the year hits the stretch run.
"I told the guys the other day, we're on life support, but they haven't pulled the plug on us yet," said Carlisle.
SHS will try and keep things rolling today with a pair of games at Pearl.
Starkville faces Pearl at noon before battling Gulfport immediately following.
The Jackets return to division play when they host Columbus on Tuesday.