Big innings have been a normal occurrence in the 2017 playoffs for the Hattiesburg Tigers, and they used another one Thursday night to claim Game 1 over Pearl River Central in the 5A South State Championship series.
Trailing 8-1 to the Blue Devils, the Tigers scored eight runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to beat PRC 9-8 at Smokie Harrington Park. Game 2 is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at PRC.
“They beat us in every which way for six innings,” Hattiesburg coach Joe Hartfield said. “They out coached us and they were tougher mentally.”
It’s not just two or three-run innings Hattiesburg is putting together, although those are pretty normal for the Tigers, too, but Hattiesburg scored 12 runs in one inning against South Jones and six runs against West Harrison before Thursday night.
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Entering the seventh inning, the Blue Devils used 11 hits to score eight runs on the Tigers, and the game seemingly looked over when PRC starter Rigell Robinson trotted back out to the mound to finish off the complete game.
“Their pitcher was tremendous,” Hartfield said. “He kept everything knees and below and we really thrive when we start getting some free passes, then we start hitting the ball. He would not give away any free passes.”
But, Robinson allowed a leadoff walk and two straight singles to make it an 8-2 game. After that, PRC head coach Neil Walther pulled Robinson.
“He got a little bit tired and walked that leadoff man, then we had a couple of miscommunications when we called one pitch and he threw another,” Walther said.
Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray walked to load the bases with no outs, then back-to-back singles by Dexter Jordan and Noah Thornton made it 8-4 with the bases still loaded with no outs.
Then chaos ensued.
Jamarcus Lang made contact with a pitch with the knob of his bat, and it was picked up by the PRC first baseman who fired it home to get the force. Gray, the base runner who was called out, didn’t agree with the call and neither did Hartfield.
After an animated discussion, Hartfield was tossed from the game.
“I think we had a good officiating crew tonight,” Hartfield said. “Things just didn’t go our way with the close calls, and being at home in the south state championship and we didn’t get the bang-bang play at home, I just felt like I didn’t have a choice there. It’s not something I take pride in. It’s only the second time in my career that I’ve been thrown out of the game.”
After the delay and with one out, A.J. Stinson walked with the bases loaded to make it 8-5, then a strike out gave the PRC defense two outs. Another walk by PRC’s Austin Dean cut the lead to 8-6 forced Walther to make another pitching change.
“We went with a guy who was great last week against Long Beach,” Walther said of Dean. “He had some decent stuff, but he just had a little trouble locating. Despite all of that, we had a couple of chances to get out of the inning and we just didn’t do it, and if you want to win games you have to do that stuff.”
Blake Craft walked in another run to make it a 1-run game with two outs and the bases load, Destin Holliman came to plate with a chance to end it.
On a 0-1 count, he sent a ground ball to second. The second baseman threw the ball away to allow Hattiesburg to score the game-tying and game-winning runs, finishing off the Blue Devils.
“When I was on deck, I was just praying to God and hoping we’d get a shot, and we did,” Holliman said. “Even though it was a hit to the second baseman, I was still running my hardest, everybody was running their hardest and he just came through with a nice error.”