PETAL - It's hard to argue there have been two better pitchers in the state than Petal's Ty Barnes and Taylor Gatwood this postseason, and Gatwood backed that up with a complete-game shutout of Harrison Central Monday night.
The 2-0 win gave the Panthers the series sweep over the Red Rebels and they advanced to the third round of the 6A state playoffs to face Terry.
"(Barnes and Gatwood) have been great," Petal head coach Larry Watkins said. "They're just tough kids, and both of them are just great competitors. Their pitch count will sometimes get high, but they do not want to come out. They're in there for seven and they're doing a great job for us."
Barnes and Gatwood have now pitched back-to-back complete game shutouts in each of their team's first two series to start the playoffs. Barnes allowed just one run in Petal's game one win on Friday to give it the 1-0 series lead heading back to Petal for game 2.
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Gatwood didn't skip a beat Monday night, as he threw 94 pitches for a 64 percent strike percentage in the seven innings. He allowed just four hits while striking out five and walking three.
The final out for the Panthers came on Gatwood's fifth strikeout of the game.
"It felt great," Gatwood said. "When I was on the mound, I knew it. I knew when (coach) called that curveball, I was about to strike that guy out."
He found himself in serious trouble only once in the game, and that was in the opening frame. The Red Rebels had two on with one out and bases loaded with two outs, but Gatwood forced Brendan Hardy to ground into a fielder's choice to end the threat.
Also in the sixth, Gatwood and cater Jacob Hall combined for a strike 'em out, throw 'em out at third base for the double play to end the inning. He called that play, "Huge," after the game.
"That's a good team," Harrison Central head coach Pat Olmi said. "Petal is always a good team. Well coached, they play the game the right way. We just couldn't put together a couple of hits and we made a couple of base running blunders. That's baseball."
Offensively, Xavier Yancey was the common denominator for the two runs. In the first inning, Sam Hopper reached first base on catcher's interference, then moved to third on a single by Yancey. When Rebel pitcher Brett Hughes tried to pick off Yancey, the ball was thrown wide to score Hopper.
In the bottom of the sixth, Barnes singled to left field to score Yancey and that provided some much-needed insurance for Gatwood on the mound. He didn't need it, though, as he pitched a clean seventh inning in nine pitches.
Hughes pitched well enough for Harrison Central to win, going six innings with five strikeouts, but he didn't have the run support. He allowed six hits and two runs - one earned - in the contest.
"He pitched his tail off," Olmi said. "We just didn't hit the ball. We have to learn how to hit the baseball. That's been our Achilles heel all year. If you don't score, you're not going to win."
The Panthers have found themselves in two-run games a lot this season, winning five of the nine contests. The experience has helped the players not panic in situations like they found themselves in on Monday night.
"They probably handle it a lot better than I do," Watkins said. "There's no panicking going on, and I think early (in the season) being in those close games helped in situations like this. We played a tough schedule this year, and we didn't have many easy games. I think it's toughen these guys up, and it's helped them handle the mental pressure of this game."
Petal (15-9) will travel to Terry (21-8) Thursday for game 1 of the quarterfinal matchup. The Bulldogs are the Region 6-6A champion, and swept Oak Grove in the second round to advance.