The nine-hole hitter played the role of hero for the Gulfport baseball team Friday night in Game 1 of the Class 6A South State semifinals.
After battling to a 3-2 count with one out and runners on second and third in the fifth inning, Gulfport senior left fielder Jake Roberts got the pitch he wanted and took full advantage. He ripped a single into left field, bringing in the only two runs of the night for the Admirals in a 2-1 win over Ocean Springs.
“I was trying to get a fastball in, something I could drive, hit up the middle,” Roberts said. “I swung at a bad pitch to get it 3-2 and he just left me one up and I drove it.”
The Gulfport players surged out of the dugout after finally getting on the board against Ocean Springs senior left-hander Garrett Crochet.
“It was just excitement,” said Roberts, who entered the game with a .204 batting average. “This is it, it's time to win.”
Ocean Springs will host Gulfport at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Game 2. If necessary, the two teams will play at Gulfport at 7 p.m. on Monday.
After winning Game 1 in front of a packed house, the Admirals (29-3) want to make sure the series ends in Jackson County Saturday.
“That would be nice because that's where they beat us last time,” Gulfport senior right-hander Blake Johnson said. “(Ocean Springs is) our only in-state loss. We'd like to finish it there for sure.”
Friday night's contest was a pitchers' duel between Johnson and Crochet.
Crochet issued his only walk of the game to Dylan Ladner with one out in the bottom of the fifth. Ladner took second after Ocean Springs shortstop Cooper Brune made an errant throw to second after fielding a grounder off the bat of Beckett White. Ladner and White both moved up a base on the error, setting the stage for Roberts' big hit.
Crochet (6-4) held Gulfport to one earned run on five hits in seven innings. He struck out eight and walked one in 6 innings.
“We had some guys in scoring position a couple of different times tonight,” Ocean Springs coach Brian Rea said. “If we were able to put the ball in play, we'd add a few more runs. There are a lot of ifs there. Garrett pitched good, pitched great. We blinked a little bit defensively there, let them back in it.”
Johnson worked through some early issues, hitting Max Horner to put a man on to begin the top of the third. Horner moved from first to third after he got an early jump on a steal attempt of second, forcing Johnson to make an errant throw to first.
Austin Cates grounded out to first to allow Horner to score the only run of the game for Ocean Springs (18-15).
After allowing multiple men to reach base in three of the first four innings, Johnson found his stride to finish out the game. He struck out seven batters over the last three innings and didn't give up a hit over that stretch.
“My goal was to not come out of the game,” Johnson said. “They sent someone to the bullpen. I wanted to finish it myself so I gave it everything I had.”
Johnson (9-1) held Ocean Springs to one run on four hits, struck out 11 and walked three.
“I think from about the fifth inning on, he got going,” Gulfport coach Jamie McMahon said. “He started throwing a little bit harder, got his breaking ball over for strikes. That helped him. From the fifth on, he competed. He's a workhorse. That's what he did tonight.”
Friday's game marked the 13th time this season that Gulfport has won a one-run game.
“We don't ever get to riled up and we're never out of a game,” McMahon said. “\They just play out to out, pitch to pitch. They pull for each other throughout the game. That helps us in one-run games.”