The George County baseball team will make the trip to Pearl for the Class 6A South State series and bring plenty of talented pitching along with them.
The Rebels got a second consecutive stellar pitching performance to take down Gulfport 4-2 Friday night at Claude Passeau Field, earning a sweep of the defending South State champions.
After Mississippi State commit Logan Tanner shut down Gulfport in a 2-1 win in Game 1, it was fellow junior Trevor McDonald's turn in Game 2. The right-hander proved up to the task, giving up one earned run on nine hits. He struck out eight and walked four to help the Rebels improve to 26-4.
George County will play Desoto Central at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in Game 1 of the Class 6A title series at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Desoto Central is 27-8 after sweeping Oxford in the state semifinals.
The rest of the dates and game times are still to be determined as George County aims for its first state title since 1997.
This will mark George County's third trip to the state title series in the last four years, but George County coach Brandon Davis has a different feel about this year's squad.
“I've tried to put my finger on it all year and I don't really know,” Davis said. “We have two very talented pitchers at one and two, but our 3-4-5 throw well too. They just keep getting timely hits. It's just like they don't want to lose a game.
“I think it has something to do with the tradition and culture we've created here of doing things the right way. Keep your mouth shut, don't talk to the other team and don't talk to the umpire. 'Yes sir, no sir.' That may be old school, but we're going to do things the right way.”
Friday's outing was impressive considering McDonald didn't have his best stuff early on.
“I started off a little rough,” he said. “I was on the corners and I couldn't find the strike zone at first. I managed to work it in there and the defense played great behind me and it worked out.”
McDonald was throwing his best when he took the mound in the seventh and he got the final out on a strikeout, setting off a celebration that included a dog pile on the pitcher's mound.
“It was rough at first,” McDonald said with a grin. “I was on the very bottom. My knee was folded up a little bit, but it'll be all right. It was worth it.”
Things appeared headed sideways for George County in the third inning when center fielder Cole Pugh missed the ball while trying to field a hard hit grounder off the bat of Colby Cochran, allowing the ball to roll to the fence. Two runs scored on the play, including Cochran.
“It's baseball. It's going to happen eventually,” Tanner said. “We knew we had to come back in the dugout, keep a positive attitude. We had to get some runs. We got some runs that next inning and it felt good.”
In the bottom of the third, Tanner and George County were the beneficiary of an error in the outfield for Gulfport as his single got under the glove of Keoki James in left and rolled almost all the way to the wall.
Two runs scored on the play and Tanner, who was 3-for-3 with three singles, slid safely into third base.
“I was looking at it running down to first base. I saw it and I thought I've got to get three right here,” Tanner said. “I just turned on the jets.”
Tanner later scored on a sacrifice fly by Jarett Anders to give George County the lead for good at 3-2 after three innings.
A home run by Jonathan Havard to lead off the fourth inning helped take the pressure off McDonald. It was the first homer of the sophomore's career.
“He's been struggling pretty good at the plate,” Davis. “He changed his stance today and he said, 'I've got to go with what's working.' He got comfortable and if he ever gets comfortable, he can be pretty dangerous.”
Gulfport (25-6) pounded out nine hits Friday night, but could never quite come up with the game-breaking hit in the series.
“You've got to give those guys credit. Both pitchers they had, they were locked in. As the game got later, I think (McDonald) got better. He did his job.
“The senior class this year (at Gulfport) doing what they did last year and getting this program where we're at this year. The disappointment is there for sure, but it's a good disappointment to be losing South State. You're one of the four best teams in Mississippi and 6A is tough.”