HURLEY — Defending Class 5A state baseball champion East Central assured themselves of a chance at a possible repeat Tuesday night.
In a winner take all clash of a battle between perennial state powers, the home-standing Hornets rallied back from an early 3-1 deficit to knock off West Jones 10-3 in game three of the Class 5A South State finals Thursday night in the shadow of East Central High School. The win gives the series, in which home-field advantage played a significant role, to the Hornets two games to one and moves ECHS into next week’s state championship round vs. Saltillo.
“This was the goal, the entire season, to get back to the point where we could play for it all again,” veteran East Central head coach Bo Long said. “It hasn’t been an easy road, we’ve been behind in some games the last two weeks. But we have a veteran group of guys with seven seniors, and they never wavered. They’re experienced and very tough mentally, and they never backed down.”
The series pitted not only the reigning Class 5A state champ Hornets but a West Jones group that had recently won that same crown in 2019. And after ECHS got off to a quick 1-0 lead on a RBI-single by Nate Trochessett in the bottom of the first, the Mustangs immediately made their presence known as well.
Kelton Hosey smacked a three-run homer over the left field fence to give West Jones a sudden 3-1 lead in the top of the second that momentarily hushed the hometown crowd.
However, unlike game three against Picayune in the previous round, the Hornets didn’t wait until late in the game to make their move in their latest win.
East Central replied in the bottom of the third frame with a six spot, and in the process took command of the game at 7-3.
The Hornets started the stanza off by loading the bases with no outs when Carson Ryder reached on an error and both T.J. Dunsford and Logan Terry Walked. A third straight base on balls gave Trochessett an RBI and the score was 3-2. Then, almost inexplicably, a fourth straight walk occurred as Andrew Marble plated an RBI to tie things up at 3-3.
A new pitcher entered and promptly balked home pinch-runner Cody Baria to give ECHS the lead at 4-3, followed by a hard-hit single to right field by Anthony Tanner that the Mustangs misplayed allowing two more runs to score and it was 6-3. Bryson Owenby’s run-scoring single scored Tanner and the Hornets headed to the fourth up 7-3.
“We got some help there but we were able to take advantage of it,” Long added. “In the playoffs, it’s always important to capitalize on those types of situations.”
Hosey’s homer, which came off of Hornet starter Owenby, would prove to be the only West Jones offense on the evening, as after that ECHS relievers Tanner and Fisher Strickler combined over the last five frames to shut out the Mustangs. The dynamic duo allowed just two hits while striking out five, although Tanner did walk four in just over two innings of work.
The Hornets began to add some insurance in the fourth when Trochessett smashed a solo home run to make it 8-3. Tanner’s two-run single in the sixth completed the scoring.
Tanner and Trochessett each collected a game-high three hits and like Hosey both Tanner and Trochessett also each drove in a game-high three runs. Dunsford added a pair of hits to the winning 12-hit attack for the Hornets, and both Tanner and Dunsford had doubles.
The trio of Hornet hurlers in Owenby, Tanner and Strickler limited the Mustang offense to just four hits in the game. East Central now stands 26-10 on the season.
In the championship series, East Central will meet yet another recent Class 5A state champion in Saltillo, as the Tigers captured the crown in 2021 before the Hornets brought it home to Hurley last season.