The stakes get higher with each game, but the results remain the same for the Gulfport baseball team.
These Admirals are clutch.
Sparked by a two-run home run by Gabe Lacy, Gulfport scored six runs in the sixth to rally for a 7-3 victory over Oak Grove Friday night in Game 1 of the Class 6A South State finals.
The Admirals, who are one win away from their first state title round appearance since 2005, will travel to Oak Grove (28-5) for a 7 p.m. first pitch on Saturday in Game 2 of the series.
Oak Grove starting pitcher Payton Harris held Gulfport (31-3) to one run on two hits through the first five innings, but walked Castor Lee to begin the sixth. After grounding out his first two at-bats, Lacy followed Lee with a deep shot over the left field wall to tie the game at 3-3.
“He walked Castor on four pitches so I was pretty confident I was going to get a pitch to hit,” Lacy said. “Thankfully, it was right there and I was ready for it.”
Lacy's blast was the first of five hits in the inning. Two batters later, Ethan Saucier had an RBI double to give Gulfport the 4-3 advantage.
Dylan Ladner added an RBI single and Dillon Brown came up with a two-run double in his final at-bat of the game for the second consecutive contest to make it 7-3.
“Gabe opened that up for us big time. He did all that,” Brown said. “That was an amazing home run. He gave us a little spark. Once you get that spark, it's hard to stop us.”
Oak Grove threatened to erase the four-run deficit in the top of the seventh when the Warriors loaded the bases with none out on a leadoff single by Drew Boyd and a pair of walks by Gulfport reliever Holden McHugh.
McHugh rebounded to strikeout pinch hitter Scott McMurrian and Zach Dearman lined out to Lee at second base to begin an unassisted double play.
“(McHugh) did it last week against Ocean Springs,” Gulfport coach Jamie McMahon said. “I just had to calm him down. He gets worked up a little. When you're in that spot, you want to attack the strike zone. He was picking a little, getting off the plate too much. Luckily, he got the big punch out and the double play.”
Gulfport, which committed three errors, was its own worst enemy for the first five innings, but managed to avoid giving up the big inning.
Gulfport starting pitcher Blake Johnson was effectively wild, striking out 10 batters and limiting Oak Grove to one hit in five innings of work. He walked five, hit two batters and had one Oak Grove batter reach on a dropped third strike.
Johnson started to show signs of tiring in the fourth inning when he walked four batters, but he survived the inning thanks a pair of pop outs and catcher Beckett White gunning down Mack Pickering on an attempted steal.
Johnson's waning control again proved a problem in the fifth inning and his defense proved shaky. Brennen Ross was hit by a pitch to begin the inning and his courtesy runner, Hayden Sikes, later scored when Gulfport first baseman Max Barnes failed to handle a grounder off the bat of Pickering.
Pickering, who advanced to second base on a wild pitch, took third on errant pickoff move by Johnson and later scored on a wild pitch.
Oak Grove had the bases loaded with two out, but Johnson got out of the jam by forcing John Rhys Plumlee to fly out to end the inning.
Oak Grove, which had only three hits, had bases-loaded scenarios in three different innings Friday night and got nothing out of those chances.
“In the sixth inning, I thought Payton got a little tired and left a ball over the plate and the guy put a good swing on it,” Oak Grove coach Chris McCardle said. “Once that happened, they got momentum and we couldn't get them out. That pretty much made the ballgame there.
Harris (7-2) took the loss, allowing four earned runs on four hits in five innings. He struck out four and walked three.
McHugh (4-0) picked up the win, throwing two scoreless innings in relief.
“Johnson did a good job. He was as good as I've heard,” McCardle said. “I can't say a whole lot. They struck us out 12 times. I don't think we've done that this year. (Johnson) threw a really good game. It's going to be tough for us now. We're in a hole, but we'll bounce back.”
Junior right-hander Patrick Nelms will pitch for Gulfport Saturday. McCardle said he was leaning toward throwing senior Jordan Coursey in Game 2.