A timely double by Ethan Saucier and a strong slide into second base by Patrick Nelms allowed the Gulfport Admirals to live to see another day.
In the second consecutive extra-inning contest to begin the Class 6A state title series, Gulfport earned a 4-3 walk-off win over Tupelo on Thursday night to even the series 1-1 at Trustmark Park.
Gulfport (33-6) will play Tupelo (25-11) at 4 p.m. Saturday in a winner-take-all Game 3.
Saucier, who reached on a one-out double in the ninth, scored the winning run from second after Tupelo third baseman South Sanders fielded a hard hit grounder off the bat of Dylan Ladner and made a strong toss to Gatlin Farrar. The Tupelo second baseman failed to make a clean turn for a double play when Nelms made contact with him and sailed a throw over the glove of first baseman Jackson Bridges, allowing Saucier to easily trot home for the winning run.
Tupelo coach Justin Reed argued with the umpiring crew that Nelms had interfered on the slide, but it was ruled a clean play.
“I was trying to break up the double play,” Nelms said. “That’s what you do, grow up doing. I did my job and got the dub. I just slid in. That’s all you can do there.”
Reed’s contention was that Nelms slid through the bag and made contact with Farrar.
“I didn’t see it,” Gulfport coach Jamie McMahon said. “I was waving the guy home. Once I saw the ball go up, I didn’t pay any attention so it is what it is. It’s a judgment call. We were fortunate to get the good side of it.”
‘We needed it’
Saucier was the man who got the rally going in the ninth with one of the hardest hit balls of the day, lifting a drive to left center to get on second with one out.
“We needed it,” Saucier said. “I can’t thank my boys enough.”
Holden McHugh (6-0) picked up the win with three scoreless innings in relief of starter Blake Johnson. McHugh, who threw 47 pitches, gave up two hits, walked two and struck out one.
Johnson lasted six innings, giving up three runs on five hits. He struck out five and walked four.
Charlie Greer (6-4) threw all 8 2/3 innings for Tupelo, allowing just one earned run on eight hits. He struck out four and walked two on 107 pitches.
Tupelo and Gulfport have played 17 innings of tight baseball through two days.
“I looked up in the sixth or seventh and we both had three runs, seven hits and one error,” McMahon said. “These two teams are evenly matched to me. Pitchers on both sides have pitched well. These have been two good games to me. I talked to (Reed) and told him that these have been two epic games so far.”
Tupelo jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Ray Sandroni scored from second base on a throwing error by Johnson, who settled down to hold Tupelo scoreless for next four innings
Gulfport put up three runs in the fourth inning thanks to a leadoff double by Castor Lee and a pair errors by the Golden Wave defense. Nelms and Ladner both had RBIs in the inning.
Tupelo scored twice to tie it up in the sixth with Bridges scoring from third on a wild pitch and Farrar came through with a two-out RBI infield single on the left side of the infield.
Nelms led Gulfport with two hits for the second consecutive night.
McMahon said he wasn’t sure who he would pitch Saturday, but he claims to have four different options.
“It’s going to be a dog fight,” he said.
What: Class 6A state championship game
Who: Gulfport vs. Tupelo
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: Trustmark Park
Series: Tied 1-1