An exhibition game for a good cause gave fans a glimpse of the 2017 edition of the Biloxi Shuckers on Tuesday night at MGM Park.
The Shuckers walked away with a 6-0 victory over William Carey University in a game that helped raise money for the tornado-relief effort on William Carey’s Hattiesburg campus. A tornado ripped through Hattiesburg on Jan. 21, causing extensive damage to the campus of the private university.
With tickets at $7 a pop, a crowd of 1,504 showed up at MGM Park on Tuesday — the large majority wearing red and cheering for the Crusaders.
“Looking around and seeing a bunch of people in the stands, it was a good atmosphere and we were doing it for the school,” WCU senior Tyler Odom said. “That’s the reason why we’re here. We went through a tough time with the tornado. For us to compete a little bit and give the fans something to watch, it was really fun.”
Odom had pitched all of six innings this season with a 9.00 ERA headed into Tuesday night’s game. What shoud have been a daunting mismatch turned into an impressive performance through four innings for Odom, a former Oak Grove High School standout from Hattiesburg.
Odom, who typically plays left field, struck out six through four innings before the wheels came off a bit for the Crusaders in the bottom of the fifth when the Shuckers put up four runs, helped by an error in center field and a wild pitch.
“This kind of peaks the baseball career, getting to play at the highest level that most of us aren’t probably going to play at,” Odom said. “A lot of us might not get drafted.”
The senior right-hander kept the Shuckers off balance through the first four innings, limiting the Double-A minor league affiliate to a pair of runs on four hits during that stretch.
“My sinker was working as a kind of a splitfinger with sinker action,” Odom said. “It was moving in to right-handed hitters and away from the lefties. I was kind of basing everything off that and trying to pitch a little bit backwards because these guys are used to seeing some of the best arms. We don’t have anything to match up with that so we tried to pitch differently than what they’re used to seeing.”
Odom held the Shuckers to five earned runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out six and walked one.
The Shuckers used eight pitchers in the seven-inning game and limited William Carey to a single hit — a two-out single by Cody Christian in the second inning. Shuckers pitchers combined to strike out 11.
The Shuckers broke through in the bottom of the second when Victor Roache, who missed the majority of the 2016 season with an injury, led the inning off with a triple in the left-center gap.
He was brought home by one of the newest Shuckers, designated hitter Art Charles, who flied out in foul territory deep down the right-field line.
Jacob Nottingham followed with a solo homer to right field to push the score to 2-0.
“I’m just trying to get a good pitch to hit and hit something hard,” he said. “I got a good pitch and put a good swing on it.”
Nottingham appears in good shape headed into Thursday’s season opener at Montgomery.
“I had my ups and downs (during the spring),” he said. “I had a little shoulder problem. I’ve been battling that a little bit. Once I got healthy everything felt good.”
Roache was the only Shucker with multiple hits, going 2-for-2 with two runs scored.
The two teams shook hands at the end of the friendly competition.
The Shuckers plan to set up a check presentation for WCU later in the season.
“That’s what it’s all about,” William Carey coach Bobby Halford said. “I really appreciate the Shuckers doing what they did for us.”
The demolition effort is ongoing on the Hattiesburg campus as the school looks to rebuild, but a sense of normalcy is settling in for the school’s students.
“Everybody is fine,” said James Land, WCU’s senior first baseman and a former Harrison Central standout. “Everything is starting to come back together. We’re rebuilding.”