Long Beach’s Justin Lockey made the pitches to keep Picayune in check all night, but it was a key defensive play by the lanky right-hander that proved to be the decisive moment in a 3-2 win over Picayune Friday night.
Picayune had runners on second and third with two out in the top of the sixth when Tyler Penton chopped a Lockey pitch that took a high hop on the infield. Lockey moved well to his left, snagged the ball and made the perfect toss into the first baseman’s glove for the third out.
“My first instinct was to make the play,” Lockey said. “It’s probably my third baseman’s ball, but I just had to make the play. It’s just an average thing.”
While Lockey’s fielding of the ball may have been his average, his throw to first was anything but.
“It was his third baseman’s ball,” Long Beach coach Shane Rutledge said with a smile. “The third baseman (Cade Crosby) said said, ‘Coach, I make that play all day. But Justin fielded the ball and threw it and he didn’t call him off. Justin fields his position very well. He’s normally an outfielder for us, but he does a really good job of fielding his position.”
With the win, Long Beach holds a 1-0 lead over Picayune in the Class 5A first-round playoff series. The Bearcats (18-9) will travel to Picayune (12-13) for Game 2 at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Relying his curveball as his out pitch, Lockey limited Picayune to two runs on four hits in a complete-game effort. He struck out 10 and walked none.
“Justin kept us in it,” Rutledge said. “He didn’t have his best stuff, but every time he fell behind in the count he figured out a way to get back in it. His cutter is the thing that he’s been missing a lot of bats with. He didn’t have great command of it so he had to rely on his fastball a little more than he generally cares to. That’s what pitch is all about at his age, being able to adjust when things aren’t perfect.”
Picayune got its own strong pitching performance out of senior right-hander Tyler Fletcher, but he left the game in the fifth inning due to an injured right elbow. On his 75th pitch of the game, Fletcher crumpled to the ground while grabbing his right elbow.
Picayune coach Cody Stogner acknowledged that “it didn’t seem good” for Fletcher, who signed with Pearl River Community College in November.
Fletcher lasted 4 2/3 innings, giving up three runs on six hits. He struggled with his control in the first inning, issuing three walks, including one to Dylan Collins with the bases loaded with two outs to bring home the first Long Beach run of the game.
Picayune responded in the the top of the second with two runs. Caleb Burnett brought one run home on a bunt single and Fletcher pushed another run across on a 6-4 groundout to give the Maroon tied a 2-1 lead.
Long Beach regained the lead in the third inning after Kai VanCourt led things off with a single and Clayton Maxwell followed with a double to right field. Lockey grounded out to second to score VanCourt and Crosby grounded out to shortstop to bring home the go-ahead run.
Crosby played in his first game of the season on Saturday after recently returning for injury. Usual shortstop Charlie Wescovich missed Friday’s game due to an illness, forcing Kai VanCourt to move from third to short and allowing Crosby to play third.
“Guys stepped up and filled roles,” Rutledge said. “Nobody is 100 percent. You’ve got to win the battle of attrition.”
Maxwell was the only player with two hits Friday night, both doubles.