Petal coach Larry Watkins was a bit concerned when the season started about how his team would hit without 2012 Mr. Baseball Anthony Alford and Tyler Graves in the lineup.
Games like Saturday, when his Panthers had 14 hits (including nine from the top three batters in the lineup), remind Watkins that everything is just fine.
Kyle Smith and Trevor Williams had three hits each and Dandy Dozen senior Larson Barkurn had two more in No. 9 Petal’s 9-5 victory over Clinton.
“I thought we hit the baseball really well today,” said Watkins. “I was happy with that. We made a few mistakes at times, but we took advantage of theirs as well.”
Petal (20-6) erased a 1-0 deficit in the third inning, taking advantage of three errors to build a 5-1 lead.
“This whole game was dictated in the third inning for us,” said Clinton coach Eddie Lofton. “You take that inning away and it’s a game.”
Clinton (15-11) capitalized on some Petal miscues (a hit batter, a catcher’s inteference and an error) in the fifth inning to cut it to 5-4. But Petal stretched its lead in the sixth when Williams belted a three-run double. Jacob Hiatt, the Panthers’ cleanup batter, also had an RBI double in the inning.
“No doubt, we were concerned when we lost Graves and Alford, but we had a lot of other kids to come back this year with some experience and those guys have come back and are hitting the ball better this year,” said Watkins. “You have to hit throughout the lineup. That doesn’t mean they all have to be .300 and .400 hitters, but we have to be able to put the ball in play. We have played good defense all year.”
Left-hander Drew Smith (6-0) went the distance, scattering seven hits with five strikeouts.
“Drew is not a real overpowering guy, but he just knows how to pitch,” said Watkins.
Petal will play Natchez in the first round of the MHSAA playoffs starting Friday.
Clinton won its third conseuctive region title and has earned a first-round bye. The Arrows will play the winner of this week’s Olive Branch-Columbus series.
“We are young, with five seniors and just two of them playing,” said Lofton. “We have to get out and play defensive ball because we don’t have that one overpowering pitcher like a lot of 6A teams.”