Long Beach baseball coach Shane Rutledge called Picayune one of the hottest teams in the region.
New Maroon Tide skipper Cody Stogner believes PMHS and LBHS are “cut from the same cloth.”
The two programs have an abundance of respect for one another, but all the pleasantries will be put to the test Friday as the Bearcats and Maroon Tide open the MHSAA Class 5A baseball playoffs at Long Beach. Game 1 is set for 7 p.m. Game 2 will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Picayune. If necessary, Game 3 will be back at Long Beach at 7 p.m. Monday.
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The Tide (12-12) is 6-3 over their last nine with a two-run loss in eight innings to Biloxi last weekend as the latest blemish.
“They had to play every time they had to go to the park,” Rutledge said, listing Picayune’s recent games against powers Pearl River Central, Hattiesburg and Biloxi.
After a four-win 2016 campaign, Picayune got off to a slow start in 2017, winning just twice in the team’s first seven games. Then, the Tide’s luck changed.
“We didn’t really dwell on the past,” Stogner said. “When you hear about Picayune baseball you expect a dogfight and a scrappy team. That was the whole goal heading into this year. Once we started having success, I think they saw what we were doing was working.
“I see a lot of different attitudes with the guys now. They’re having fun.”
Trenton Lee is the latest brother to lead the Tide, following in the footsteps of Braxton (Ole Miss, Tampa Bay Rays) and Peyton (Pearl River C.C.). The youngest Lee is a dual threat, hitting .449 with seven extra-base hits and 25 RBIs. He’s also 1-4 with three saves, a 3.41 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings.
“He exemplifies everything we came in preaching,” Stogner said. “He’s 100 percent gritty every day.”
Tough to beat
Rutledge and Stogner had similar thoughts when asked about each other’s teams.
“I emphasized to my guys that they’re not going to try to beat you by doing exceptional things,” Rutledge said. “They make you play fundamentally sound.
“We have to make the plays and take the outs they give us. We can’t give them extra outs and bases.”
Added Stogner: “Whenever you play Long Beach you have to play a perfect game because they’re going to do everything right.”
Long Beach (17-9) also heads into the postseason feeling good after collecting consecutive wins over Gautier, West Harrison and Biloxi.
The most exciting aspect of Long Beach’s recent winning streak was the manner in which the Bearcats pulled out the victories.
In the West Harrison win, freshmen Dalton Cook and Kobe Cook combined to lift the Bearcats in eight innings. Against Biloxi, sophomore Kai Vancourt had the decisive hit.
“For a long time, they were waiting on C-Max (Clayton Maxwell), (Justin) Lockey or (Charlie) Wescovich to get the big hit,” Rutledge said. “But in the last couple of games, the young guys have had the crucial at-bat or big homer.
“We’ve sort of spread it around in the last three games. Any of the nine have a chance to hit it in the gap or get a hit to start a rally.”
Though Long Beach’s lineup has changed quite a bit this season, the pitchers all have well-defined roles — which has made Rutledge’s life much easier.
Starters Justin Lockey (4-3, 2.73 ERA) and Austin Allen (4-2, 1.35) have been more than just reliable and will start the first two games of the series. Scotty Spears (1-0, 1.31, 4 saves) has played the role of fireman, putting out fires as they pop up late in games. Darren Cook (4-1, 3.07) and Dylan Collins (2-2, 3.92) have also turned in important innings.
“It eliminates a lot,” Rutledge said of his pitching strength. “I can concentrate on ways to score runs because our pitching, there’s no second guessing right now. There’s no real debate. It doesn’t require any discussion. We know who our guys are and who we’ll run out there.”
Class 6A: Biloxi-St. Martin, Harrison Central-George County
Class 5A: Pascagoula-Pearl River Central
Class 4A: St. Stanislaus-Florence, Vancleave-Richland, East Central-Lawrence County, Bay-North Pike
Class 3A: St. Patrick-Raleigh
Class 1A: Resurrection-Leake County
Ocean Springs, Gulfport and West Harrison have first-round byes.
Ceremonial first pitch
Biloxi-St. Martin: Former New York Yankee and Ole Miss great Jack Reed will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Biloxi-St. Martin opener Friday. Reed is the grandfather of Biloxi infielder Jake Collier. First pitch at Indian Stadium is set for 7 p.m.