HATTIESBURG - Hattiesburg hammered Long Beach 11-1 win over the Bearcats in game 1 of a best-of-three Class 5A playoff series on Friday.
Long Beach plays host to Hattiesburg for game two of the series at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Bearcats need a win to keep their season alive.
"I thought they responded well," Tigers coach Joe Hartfield said. "One of the things we really addressed was our hitting approach and being able to hit the ball through the infield instead of hitting the ball in the air. We did an excellent job of doing that one through nine. Our guys really bought into it."
Led by sophomore Joe Gray on the mound and at the plate, the Tigers outhit Long Beach 11-3 and the Tigers quickly jumped on top 8-0 before Long Beach could record a hit.
With two outs Gray started the scoring off with a solo shot to left field, then three straight singles allowed Hattiesburg to score two more runs. C.J. Anderson singled up the middle, Orien Bailey singled to left, then Chris Cooley's base hit got by the right fielder to allow the two runs to score.
"I'll be honest with you, I saw just a big watermelon there," Gray said. "I'm not going to lie to you. It was there. He just hung it and I just turned on it."
The Tigers added three more in the next frame, as Devin Lang and A.J. Stinson started the inning off with back-to-back base hits. Destin Payton walked during the next at-bat, and Lang came into score when Gray walked two batters later.
"He lit one up and hit it out of Smokie Harrington, which is always an accomplishment, for sure," Hartfield said of Gray's home run in the first. "But he had a good approach later on in the game, too. He came back and took his walk."
Stinson scored on a passed ball and Payton came in when Anderson grounded out to second. That gave the Tigers the commanding 6-0 lead after two innings. In the third, Julian Conner hit a sacrifice fly to plate Cooley from third, and Stinson scored the eighth run of the ballgame after Payton hit an infield single.
Finally, Long Beach was able to find some life in the fourth inning. After a groundout for the first out, Tyler Allen singled, Justin Lockey walked and Darren Cook reached on an error to score Allen. Charlie Wescovich walked during the next at-bat to load the bases, but Gray was able to get out of the inning without any more damage.
"Just filling it up and not trying to do too much," Gray said. "In the backside of the innings, I started to gas everything. You see I gave up the hit. The changes were just arm angles and forgetting my mechanics. I started changing up everything with a lot of movement. I just went back to just putting it in there and my defense supported me."
Gray finished the night with five innings pitched, giving up one unearned run on one hit, struck out four and walked four.
Up 8-1, the Tigers sat on the lead for an inning or two. They were retired in order in the fourth, then had the first two batters fly out and strikeout in the fifth. Conner reached base with two outs in the fifth, then advanced to third when the pitcher tried to pick him off. He later scored on a wild pitch to push the lead to 9-1 during the same at-bat.
Hattiesburg ended the game in the sixth when it loaded the bases with one out. Bailey's walk gave the Tigers a 10-1 advantage, and a wild pitched scored Gray to end the game due to the run-rule.
"You have to keep the foot on the pedal, and some areas we didn't do that," Hartfield said. "We got refocused there in the sixth inning, got a couple of guys on and was able to get the win. That's something we still have to work on."