Shane Stafford said when he erupted at the plate against Shoemaker this past season — blasting a trio of home runs in the district title-clinching win — each pitch looked like a beach ball coming at him.
Today, Stafford said looking at his numbers from that game — 10 RBIs in just two innings — feels like he was playing a video game that day.
For Stafford, the game in which he left his print on the 2014 baseball season still doesn’t feel real two months later.
But what is real is his steady improvement at the plate after Stafford worked doggedly, staying late practice after practice, to improve his plate discipline.
Now, Stafford is the 2014 All-Area Offensive Player of the Year following a junior season in which he hit a career-high eight home runs.
Stafford, the starting quarterback for the Tiger football team, has always been a great athlete.
But Belton head coach Eddie Cornblum said that this year, with hard work, Stafford blossomed into a key contributor with his bat.
“He had a hard time his sophomore year with hitting some of the off-speed pitches,” Cornblum said. “He was just very gifted athletically.
“But just being able to see and recognize pitches, understand how to hit in counts, be more patient, hitting the ball the other way, that was stuff he had to really mature into and work at and he bought in.
“Once he understood how to hit the ball to all fields and really stay off the bad off-speed pitches and be able to hit with two strikes and all that stuff that makes a hitter successful, he really worked on that and got better, that really contributed to his success this year.”
Stafford said at first his progression was gradual.
But as the season wore on, he continued to make strides before playing his best ball at the end of the season, highlighted by his performance against Shoemaker.
For Stafford, it was a nice sign of how far he had come since his sophomore season.
“It was pretty incredible,” Stafford said. “I’ve never experienced a feeling like that before, especially since last year I didn’t get a hit the way I wanted to.
“Having a game like that really boosted my confidence. Even though I hit well throughout the season that game just really blew it through the roof.”
With a year left in his high school athletic career, Stafford still has plenty of time to keep improving.
And Cornblum fully expects him to do just that after his impressive, and sometimes surreal, junior season.
“He’s somebody that is, to me, just unbelievable talent,” Cornblum said. “And whoever grabs him baseball-wise is going to have a kid that can play down the road.”