High School Sports

Pearl River Central punches ticket to 5A State championship series

Pearl River Central celebrates its win over Hattiesburg to reach the 5A State Championship series.
Pearl River Central celebrates its win over Hattiesburg to reach the 5A State Championship series. Pine Belt Sports

It was a new day, but the results were the same for the Pearl River Central offense.

The Blue Devils used nine hits to score seven runs, as they backed their way into a 5A South State series win. PRC finished off the Tigers 7-4 in Game 3 Saturday to advance to the 5A State Championship next week.

“For them to lose Game 1 the way they lost it, then bounce back and beat us up the second game and hang in there tonight, they deserve to move on,” Hattiesburg coach Joe Hartfield said.

It’s the first-ever state championship appearance for the Blue Devils’ baseball program. PRC will face Oxford in the state title series.

“Last year after we got beat (by Hattiesburg in the 2016 South State series), we talked about it all summer and fall, if everything goes right, we were going to be playing Hattiesburg again,” PRC coach Neil Walther said. “I think it was fitting we played and I think it was fitting it went three games.”

The Blue Devils got the offense started early in the first inning with a run to take the lead before Hattiesburg could have an at-bat.

With one out, Austen Izzio walked, then Hayden Dunhurst singled to put two on with one out. Eli Lee sent the first pitch he saw to left field, which was caught by left fielder Dexter Jordan. Izzio faked as if he was tagging to score to force a throw from Jordan, and he missed the cutoff man to allow Dunhurst to take second base. When the Hattiesburg catcher tried to throw him out across the diamond, Izzio scored to give PRC a 1-0 lead.

Two innings later in the third, Dunhurst blasted a three-run home run to give the Blue Devils a 4-0 advantage.

“The big catcher hits the home run, but it should have been a solo (home run) if we make plays and throw strikes,” Hartfield said. “Again, they got the job done. They got the big hit when they needed it.”

The lone blemish to PRC’s night was the bottom half of the fourth inning. The Blue Devils committed all three of their errors in the frame to help Hattiesburg cut the PRC lead to 4-2.

Thornton reached on an error by the shortstop, Letrelle Johnson singled, then Quanell Curry and Caleb Tart got on base thanks to back-to-back errors. A run scored on each of the last two errors, too.

But PRC answered in the next half inning with three more runs to retake control of the contest.

A single by Lee and walks for Caleb Tynes and Josh Kennedy loaded the bases with no outs. Cade Lee walked to plate the first run, then Zach Roussell singled to score two more.

“I think (we outscored Hattiesburg) 27-7 besides (the seventh inning in Game 1),” Walther said. “It was just kids having an approach, buying into what we’re trying to do, hitting the ball on the ground and putting pressure on people.”

Hattiesburg would go scoreless in the fifth and sixth innings, but the crowd and the Tigers woke up when the scoreboard showed the seventh.

A.J. Stinson singled and Joe Gray was hit by a pitch to put two on with two outs, then Dexter Jordan doubled to right center to score the two base runners and cut the PRC lead to 7-4. PRC’s starter Cade Lee walked Noah Thornton to keep the inning alive, but with the game-tying run at the plate, he struck out Johnson on a 3-2 count to clinch the series.

“I think this game was a little bit different than Game 1,” Walther said. “We had a little adversity in Game 1 and we didn’t necessarily get it done. Here, we did. That’s a great job of rebounding by the kids.”

Lee allowed four runs – two earned – on six hits with five strikeouts and two walks in the game.

“He threw a lot of strikes,” Hartfield said. “Most of the time the team that gives up the most free passes is going to lose, and vice versa. He did a great job of making us earn everything.”