Payton Phillips toed the rubber Tuesday during the Hannibal baseball team's 12-2 win over Mexico and made the most of a prime opportunity.

When Payton Phillips toed the rubber Tuesday as the starting pitcher for the Hannibal baseball team during a 12-2 win over Mexico, he made the most of a prime opportunity.

The junior, who coach Daryl Zessin called upon for a spot start due a shortage of available arms, made his first start of the season. 

The righty could have been mistaken for a poised veteran.

Phillips tossed four scoreless innings while striking out a pair and surrendering only one hit and one walk. Of his 47 pitches, 34 were on target for strikes.

“I found out maybe an hour before the game,” he said of his spot start. “I was kind of nervous because the past few games I've let up a lot of runs. Tonight, something just clicked.” 

Count Zessin and teammate Will Whitaker among those most impressed with the outing.

“Payton went out there and threw four really solid innings, gave up no runs,” the coach said. “They barely hit the ball.”

“He had a great game,” said Whitaker. “That's probably the best game I've ever seen him throw. He did really good.”

Phillips has played most of the season at the junior varsity level. As of late, however, he's used his off-speed pitches to post steady performances and enter his name into the varsity mix.

“Beginning of the year, I was playing on the junior varsity,” Phillips said. “I came up here for a few games, pitched a little bit, did alright. To get the start tonight, it surprised me.”

Zessin said it was a chance he deserved.

Last Tuesday during a loss at Palmyra, the junior entered in the third inning with the Pirates already trailing 10-0. He stopped the bleeding by pitching 4 1/3 innings and allowed just one earned run.

On Saturday at the Palmyra tournament, Phillips entered against Palmyra and gave up two runs over 2 1/3 innings — holding his own against top competition despite giving up the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh. 

“He pitched really well this last weekend at the tournament,” Zessin said. 

After Tuesday's victory, Phillips has now allowed three runs over 10 2/3 varsity innings this season. 

While junior Colton Brown (3-1,1.83 ERA), senior Scot Roberts (2-2, 3.16) and junior Wyatt Waelder (0-2, 4.79) have been Hannibal's primary starters this season, Phillips is bound to receive more opportunities going into his senior year.

“He's going to get more looks,” Zessin said. “We've got a couple kids that are seniors this year that won't be here next year, and Payton's going to get some more time and I think he'll very successful.”

Hannibal, which holds a 9-6 record this season, faces Troy Buchanan in the first round of the Class 5 District 8 tournament on Saturday.

Regardless of how the season ends, Zessin said he's proud of his squad's success — which comes thanks to contributions from top to bottom of its roster.

Phillips served as an example of that Tuesday night.

“It's been a good season,” Zessin said. “In my time as a head coach, this is the most wins we've had in a season, the most wins we've had in conference, and the highest we'll place in conference. But our business is not done.”