You could almost see the steam coming out of Chris McCardle’s ears Tuesday night as he prepared to address the media following Oak Grove’s 6-4 loss to DeSoto Central in the first game of the Class 6A State Championship series.
And with good reason.
He knew, as did everyone else who was there, that the Warriors blew a golden opportunity against one of the top two or three teams in the state.
“We got 10 hits off the best pitchers we’ve seen in the past two years, by far,” McCardle said. “We had a chance, a real good chance; we just have to make plays.”
He wasn’t joking about the pitchers, either. Austin Riley and Dallas Woolfolk, the two big right-handers the Jaguars sent to the mound, mixed big-league curveballs with wicked sliders and fastballs that rarely got below 88 miles an hour.
For all of that, Oak Grove hit some balls hard, enough to take a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the fifth inning.
Out of character
But the Warriors were done in by a couple of out-of-character defensive lapses in the pivotal fifth inning that were just killers, and allowed DeSoto Central to score three runs, tie the game and take all of the momentum away from Oak Grove.
Tre Span, the Jaguars’ No. 9 hitter, opened the inning by hitting a high popup into shallow rightfield. Oak Grove second baseman Lakon Wilson backed up and backed up some more, and it was obvious that he was out to sea on the play.
Not surprisingly, the ball fell for what was ruled a double, but could have been an error. And in truth, rightfielder J.C. Keys was the one who should have come in to make the play, since he had it in front of him. But he hesitated and Wilson failed to take charge.
After a strikeout, a single put runners at the corners for DeSoto’s Keegan James, who hit a sharp grounder to third. Mack Pickering’s throw was a little off line and it was ruled an error when the throw pulled Wilson off the bag.
McCardle said he thought it was a bad call, but he didn’t have a good angle to see it, and from the press box it was clear that Wilson’s foot was a good six inches off the bag.
Then, as McCardle put it, “it snowballed on us.”
Do or die
So now it becomes do or die for the Warriors Thursday afternoon in Game 2 of the best-of-three series. Oak Grove must win to force a third game, probably Friday morning.
Oak Grove can call on its considerable championship pedigree, but the reality is that the Warriors only have a handful of players who were regulars on last season’s title-winning team.
And DeSoto Central has a whole roster full of players who watched Oak Grove celebrate its championship last year after losing a dramatic 2-1 contest in the third game of the series.
“There is a revenge thing,” said James, who drove in the go-ahead run in the sixth. “We told them last year that we’d be back, and they told us they’d be back. So here we are.”
Oak Grove is not without weapons. McCardle will send his best pitcher, Keys, to the mound, and he will probably face James, who brings a 6-2 record with a 0.76 ERA to the fray.
It will be a tough task, but the Warriors showed in Game 1 that they could hit the best DeSoto could offer, and that should give them some confidence.
But, the bottom line is they’re not going to beat DeSoto Central unless they play picture-perfect baseball, something they did not do Tuesday night.
Contact Stan Caldwell at (601) 584-3137, on Twitter at StanMan1717 and on e-mail at scaldwell@hattiesburg american.com.