PETAL - George County had runners on base in six of the eight innings played Friday night in game two of the 6A South State Championship Series with Petal. Besides a lone run in the sixth, the scoreboard read nothing but zeros.
That all changed in extra innings, as the Rebels blew open the game and scored four runs in the top of the eighth to help seal the 6A South title, winning 5-1 over the Panthers. The win clinched a trip to Trustmark Park for George County after losing to Oxford in the 5A State Championship Series last year.
"The fought from the day that they got home last year, and they said, 'We'll be back,'" Rebels coach Brandon Davis said. "They came out with the mindset of we're going to go to the state championship, and they did. I'm glad to be back and I think we have some unfinished business."
In a never-ending eighth inning, George County scored four runs on four hits, a walk, a batter hit by pitch and an infield error.
Bryson Solomon and Logan Tanner hit back-to-back singles to start the eighth. Kyle Whittington reached on an infield error, which Solomon scored to give the Rebels their first lead of the game. A Jathan Staton RBI double and Kyle Cochran's two-run single gave George County a 5-1 lead.
"It's hard to get a pitch to hit when you're behind in the count, questionable calls and that was just building on the frustration," Davis said. "We had guys right there all night, just hitting it right at somebody. Give credit to Petal, because they made some unbelievable plays on defense, they made some great catches and Gatwood made some great pitches. Hats off to him. (We) got to him late. We got to him in the eighth, and he just ran out of gas I believe."
George County's first run of the game came after a passed ball in the sixth inning. The bench erupted after Walker Robbins crossed the plate, because the score tied the game at 1. Up until that point, the Rebels struggled to get runners around the base paths. They left 13 runners on base.
"(Taylor Gatwood) threw great, because they have a strong lineup one through nine," Petal coach Larry Watkins said. "We just battled. I'm really proud of our kids for batting back to get to this point. It's disappointing when you don't win, you don't ever want your season to end in a loss, but it just shows you how close we were to playing for a state championship."
Gatwood allowed five runs on 10 hits in seven-plus innings of work. He struck out five in the game, holding the Rebels' bats down until the eighth inning.
Petal took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Gatwood got things started with a two-out single. Blake Reid's RBI single gave the Panthers a 1-0 advantage.
But the third inning was a good example of how the game went for Watkins' squad. Tanner Estill led off the inning with a double and Sam Hopper walked to put two runners on with no outs. George County brought in Whittington to pitch, and he got two quick outs. After walking Barnes, Whittington got a strikeout to end the threat and gave George County momentum.
"I thought for sure we were going to bust it open there," Watkins said. "To win state championships, you have to step up and get hits in those situations."
Petal had no answer for Whittington, who pitched the final six innings, giving up only one hit on 94 pitches.
"We had some opportunities to get some runs and we just didn't get the big hits," Watkins said. "You have to get some hits in those situations and get a little luck. We didn't get any gifts from them."