HURLEY — A one-week layoff didn’t seem to bother the defending Class 5A state champions Saturday afternoon.
The East Central Hornets whacked West Jones 8-0 here at home in game one of the Class 5A South State finals. The Hornets move to 25-9 overall in their quest for back-to-back state crowns for the first time ever in school history.
Veteran head coach Bo Long’s squad had a week off after eliminating Picayune from the playoffs also at home, while the Vancleave-West Jones third-round series took 10 days to finish.
The home-standing Hornets wasted no time in taking a quick 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first frame with a pair of runs and then in fast fashion doubled that advantage to 4-0 in the second stanza.
In the opening inning, Carson Ryder walked to lead things off and scored two batters later when Logan Terry cracked an RBI-double into left field. The next batter, Nate Trochessett, batted the ball hard to second base, and when the Mustangs couldn’t handle it Brayson Owenby raced home from third base.
In the second stanza, Eli Smith drew a one-out walk and Brandt Dickerson reached on an error in front of lead-off hitter Ryder. Ryder promptly punched the ball down the right field line for a two-run double that doubled the East Central lead to 4-0.
Those four runs would be more than enough for Southern Miss signee T.J. Dunsford, recently named “Class 5A Mr. Baseball” in the state. Dunsford moved to 10-1 on the hill with a dominant six-inning shut-out performance and his third straight pitching victory in the state playoffs this season. He struck out 11, walked four and allowed four hits also.
Just for good measure, when Dunsford walked off the hill after finishing the top of the sixth inning, he decided his work wasn’t quite yet done.
Dunsford started a four-run, game-securing rally with an RBI-single in the bottom of the frame. His Hornet teammates then went back to work as well, as Terry delivered a two-run single to make it 7-0 and then Dunsford scored on a balk resulting in the final count.
Fisher Strickler came on to pitch the seventh for ECHS and keep the Mustangs confined to the stable.
Terry’s two hits and three RBIs led the Hornets at the plate and Ryder was close behind with a pair of hits and two runs batted in as well.
West Jones’ Jaxson Rayborn took the loss in just over an inning of work.
Game two in the series is set for Monday night in Soso, and game three if necessary would be back in Hurley on Tuesday.
The winner of this series will face either Saltillo or Ridgeland for the Class 5A state championship. Saltillo leads the North State finals series one game to none after an 8-0 road win on Friday night. Game two in that series is also set for Monday night with Saltillo hosting.