After falling in the series opener to Oak Grove, St. Martin baseball coach Kary Bridges promised that his team wouldn’t be “intimidated by anybody.”
On Saturday, the Yellow Jackets finished off a series win that stacks up among the biggest accomplishments in program history.
St. Martin jumped out to an early 8-1 lead and then withstood a fierce Oak Grove comeback to beat the Warriors 9-7 and advance to the South State championship.
The Yellow Jackets (25-7) will meet Biloxi (29-3) starting a three-game series for the right to play in Pearl for the Class 6A baseball championship.
Biloxi advanced to the South State championship by sweeping Brandon in their quarterfinal series.
“We are where every team in the state wanted to be at the start of the season,” said Bridges, a former Oak Grove head coach.
“We gave up five or six unearned runs early,” said Oak Grove coach Chris McCardle. “(Starting pitcher Kris Jones) got the ball hit to where we wanted it hit, but we didn’t make the plays behind him.”
McCardle said the errors early put the Warriors in a place they couldn’t recover from.
“We couldn’t get out of the inning,” he said. “You can’t make those mistakes against good teams. It cost us in the end.”
The Yellow Jackets appeared to be on the verge of beating Oak Grove on the 10-run rule, leading 7-1 in the bottom of the third with the bases loaded and no outs.
McCardle went to his bullpen and brought Parker Harrington out. Although Harrington walked R.J. Fletcher to drive in a run, he managed to get the first out on a infield fly rule and then strike out the next two batters to end the threat.
“I thought we had a chance to close it out,” Bridges said. “I was worried (our inability to score late) would come back and an haunt us.”
And, in the top of the fourth, Harrington’s work in the third to limit the Yellow Jackets to just one run in the third almost paid off as the Warriors got back in the game, scoring five runs behind Tate Ryder’s RBI double and Jones two-RBI single as Oak Grove cut the St. Martin lead to 8-6.
“Harrington was outstanding,” McCardle said. “He gave us a chance to comeback and win the game.”
Bridges said he thought Oak Grove would come back.
“They are a great team,” he said.”I knew they wouldn’t give up.”
While Harrington put up zeroes in the fourth and fifth innings, St. Martin managed to score an insurance run in the sixth, again taking advantage of Oak Grove mistakes, this time on the mound.
Dane Dutil slapped a single past third to lead off the St. Martin sixth. He then advanced to second on a one-out balk and to third on a wild pitch before scoring on a second Warriors balk in the inning.
In the top of the fifth, a leadoff walk to Cade Cuevas led Bridges to call in Brennen Study. Study got the first five batters he faced out before running into trouble in the seventh, giving up a single, walk, and pop-fly single as Oak Grove loaded the bases.
Bridges made his final pitching move of the night, bringing Payne in to replace Study. Payne gave up a sacrifice fly to right before getting the last two outs on a grounder to third and a strikeout.
“Even though he is a sophomore, I knew the game was not too big for him,” Bridges said.
“We had our chances late, but we couldn’t come through,” McCardle said. “I was proud of the team for battling back.”
St. Martin took advantage of Oak Grove defensive struggles early, putting up five runs in the bottom of the second to take a 7-1 lead. In the inning, the Warriors (22-9) committed two errors at third and had their left fielder lose a fly ball in the evening sky, dropping about 30 feet in front of him for a single. Two runs would score in the inning off a wild pitch and passed ball.
Fletcher had the big hit in the inning, driving in a single to left to plate two runners.
Jones paced the Warriors offense with three hits, a walk, double and two RBIs. Ryder added two hits, a triple, stolen base and an RBI.
Fletcher had two hits, a walk, and three RBIs. In addition to getting the win, Study added a pair of hits and two RBIs. Warrior pitchers recorded six hit batters, hitting Pankonin three times and Anthony Foto twice.
Pearl River Central 12, North Pike 7
Junior shortstop Morgan Treat had a big day at the plate as the Blue Devils advance to face West Jones for Class 5A South State.
Treat finished 3-for-5 with three runs batted in to spark Pearl River Central to the win in Carriere. Caleb Dyess also had a nice night, finishing 2-for-3.
Junior right-hander Austin Diebold put in another strong performance in the postseason, lasting 6 1/3 innings to pick up the win.
PRC will begin the Class 5A South State title series with a trip to West Jones Thursday night.