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GULFPORT - West Harrison cut it close Friday afternoon, but the defending Class 5A South State champs are moving on.
Deadlocked with visiting Picayune in a pitcher's duel between aces Stephanie Necaise and Megan Dudenhefer, the Lady Hurricanes finally broke through in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Kristen Sexton opened the frame with a walk and was sacrificed to second base before Sydney-Brooke Sims singled through the left side. Sexton had to dodge the scorched ball but rounded third and easily scored what ended up being the deciding run in West Harrison's 1-0 victory.
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"She has come through like that all year," WHHS coach Brittany Rogers said of Sims. "She's been a big bat for us."
Friday's game really resembled Tuesday's series opener where WHHS had to scratch across a run in the eighth to edge Picayune (15-12-1) 2-1.
With the series sweep, West Harrison (15-13) now advances to face Brookhaven in the second round of the playoffs. The series starts Monday.
Picayune's best chance to score Friday came in the sixth. With a runner on first, Elizabeth Taggard put a charge into a pitch deep to center field. Megan Sexton tracked it down, however, and made an athletic over-the-shoulder catch to end the threat.
"That was a huge one," Rogers said. "It was over her head. She tracks balls really well out there. We didn't think she was going to get to it but she did."
Necaise had a typical performance for West Harrison in the circle, dialing up 10 strikeouts. Rogers said she stuck to what worked in Tuesday's opener and once again had success.
No strikeouts were bigger for Necaise than the final two, which she blew by the batters with runners on first and second to clinch the victory.
"Steph was on," Rogers said. "We really elevated a lot. She threw a lot of balls and they swung at some of them, but she really hit her spots well and worked inside on them."
Dudenhefer proved to be a tough luck loser, allowing the one run on just two hits and one walk.
"She hits her spots and has really matured the last few years with being able to do that," Picayune coach Kristi Mitchell said. "She has always been able to throw hard but she's been hitting her spots a bit better.
"She has some nasty pitches and when they work, they work."
The season ended on a sour note, but Mitchell is excited about the future of the program, which returns all but one graduating senior.
"We have a lot to build on from this season," she said. "Thirteen kids for the majority of the season saw a lot of varsity action. Some of those are 10th and ninth graders, which will make a huge difference being able to compete at the next level.
"We're excited. We're going to start tomorrow and go right back to work."