If defending Class 5A state champion East Central decided at some point along the way to make the defense of its state title an arduous journey, the Hornets have certainly accomplished that.
For the second consecutive round, East Central heads home to Hurley to host a third and final game three in a best-of-three South State series after West Jones took a 2-1 win in game two of the Class 5A South State finals Monday night in Soso.
The Hornets took game one at home on Saturday 8-0, and the series now stands even at one game apiece and the survivor of Tuesday’s tilt will advance to the Class 5A state championship round beginning next week in Pearl, Miss., at Trustmark Park.
In the previous postseason round, the Hornets also won game one against Picayune before falling to the Maroon Tide on the road in game two. East Central then scraped past a scrappy PMHS squad in the third and deciding game 4-1 after breaking a late 1-1 tie with a sixth inning rally.
First pitch at East Central High School is set for 7 p.m., Tuesday night.
On Monday, the Hornets squandered a great opportunity to end West Jones’ season and advance in the final inning.
Trailing by the final 2-1 outcome, East Central lead-off hitter Carson Ryder led off the seventh stanza with a walk. Southern Miss signee T. J. Dunsford, the winning pitcher in game one, then stepped up to the plate and rattled a liner to right field that the Mustangs misplayed and sent Ryder to third base as Dunsfrd pulled into second base as both the tying and potential go-ahead runs were in scoring position still with no outs.
But West Jones starting pitcher Camden Clark, who held the high-powered Hornet offense at bay most of the night, battled back to record three consecutive outs striking out three-hole hitter Logan Terry and clean-up batter Nate Trochessett in the process and then ending the threat and the game by getting Andrew Marble to fly out to center.
The junior Clark was the story of the game for the Mustangs, as he went the distance in earning the win to keep the Mustangs season alive. Clark threw 119 pitches, striking out nine, allowing seven Hornet hits and walking just two.
East Central’s only run of the game came in the top of the first frame, when Marble’s two-out run-scoring single plated Dunsford who had singled three batters earlier.
However, the Mustangs responded immediately to take a lead they would never relinquish in the bottom of the first when Lawson Odom scored an East Central error to knot things up at 1-1 and then Bergin Bullock plated Caleb Flynn on an RBI-sacrifice fly in what would eventually prove to be the winning run.
Clark then settled in nicely and tossed six shutout innings throughout the rest of the game for West Jones to seal the all-important win. All seven of East Central’s hits on the night were singles, with Dunsford, the “Class 5A Mr. Baseball”, leading the way with three of those hits.
Eli Smith was the tough-luck loser for the Hornets, as he also went the distance on the mound and allowed no earned runs and just three singles to West Jones. He also struck out five and walked none in taking the loss.
Saltillo awaits the East Central-West Jones winner in the Class 5A state championship after the Tigers swept Ridgeland in the North State finals. Saltillo won game one last week 8-0 just outside of Jackson, before returning home and beating the Titans 11-3 on Monday night to close out the series and advance.