Oak Grove needed to get off on the right foot against Harrison Central Friday night at Southern Miss’ Pete Taylor Park.
It didn’t. And it cost the Warriors.
Harrison Central scored three unearned runs against the Warriors, and held on for a 5-4 victory in Game 2 of the Class 6A South State Championship Series. The Red Rebels also won the first game of the series, 10-1, and advance to the 6A State Championship Series next week at Trustmark Park.
For Oak Grove, it’s the end of the line. The defending state champion Warriors finish the season with a 28-5 record.
“We start the game off with an error, and the next guy hits one in the gap,” Oak Grove head coach Chris McCardle said. “(Then) we’ve got guys not making plays on (sacrifice bunt attempts). We’ve got (dropped third strikes), and we can’t throw them out. Just stuff that happens when you’ve got a young team.
“I think the pressure got to us a little bit early.”
Harrison Central’s Derrick Mount led off the game by reaching base on an error, and James Land’s RBI double brought him around. After Land moved to third on a groundout, Bryant Johnston struck out.
But catcher John Clayton Nelson dropped the ball, and tried to throw Johnston out at first base. Which he did. But a heads-up Land bolted for the plate and scored easily.
However, Oak Grove wasn’t without its opportunities.
Kirk McCarty led off the bottom of the first with a double, but was doubled off of second base when he ran on a fly ball that was caught in right field.
In the second, Mark Worley, Jansen Bounds and Colton McMurry singled consecutively with nobody out. Worley scored on McMurry’s single, but the senior left fielder was thrown out at second base trying to stretch his hit into a double.
Two batters later, Bounds was still standing on third base.
“We got 12 hits and only scored four runs,” McCardle said. “That’s the ball game right there. You can’t beat anybody like that.”
Harrison Central head coach Pat Olmi admitted his Red Rebels benefitted significantly from more than a few breaks.
“We got some breaks that went our way,” he said. “An error and a couple of passed balls – those things in the past have gone against us. But good teams make their breaks.”
Oak Grove made it a 3-2 game in the fifth when courtesy runner Jordan Mitchell scored on a Matthew Guidry groundout.
But Harrison Central put up two in the sixth on a Mount RBI single up the middle, and a run-scoring swinging bunt by Land.
Sophomore J.C. Keys started on the mound for Oak Grove. He threw 5 2⁄3 innings, and struck out nine, while allowing just two earned runs. Taylor Braley finished the game for the Warriors.
Reagan Wease earned the victory for Harrison Central, despite giving up eight hits in six innings and striking out only one.
Bryant Johnston came on for the Red Rebels in the seventh to close things out, but ran into some trouble.
Max Bloomingburg singled to lead off and McCarty followed with a single. Two batters later, John Carter Sanner delivered a two-out, two-run single to narrow the gap to 5-4.
Worley, who had three hits all told, followed with a single to put runners on first and second for Oak Grove, but Johnston got Bounds to bounce out to first to end the game.
“I felt like we should’ve won this ball game,” McCardle said. “But that’s baseball. You’ve got to make the plays when you have the opportunity.”
McCardle added he’s proud of his team’s performance this season, despite not having a permanent home field all season after an EF4 tornado destroyed Harry Breland Field in February.
“It’s been a long spring,” he said. “The longest baseball season I’ve ever been a part of. I was proud of how far we got and how we competed. Our senior class, they never quit. They got some big hits for us, and they’ve been a pleasure to coach.”
“We’ll definitely be back next year.”