PETAL – Unhittable.
That was Oak Grove senior right-hander J.C. Keys Tuesday night against Petal in the first meeting of the season between the two arch-rivals.
Keys fired a no-hitter, and the Warriors took advantage of their opportunities on offense to score a 5-0 victory over the Panthers in front of a big crowd at Panther Field.
Oak Grove (12-5 overall) took over sole possession of first place in Region 5-6A at 4-1, while Petal dropped to 11-6 and 3-2 in seeing a four-game winning streak snapped.
“He was a bulldog out there for us,” said Oak Grove coach Chris McCardle. “He’s done that for us the whole season and we rely on him.”
Keys (4-0) struck out 12 batters and the only time he was in any trouble at all came in the bottom of the seventh, when he sandwiched two walks around a hit batter to load the bases with one out.
But he took care of that, finishing with a flourish, by fielding a comebacker and starting a 1-2-3 double play to end the game.
“I knew it, but I didn’t want to think about it,” said Keys, who needed just 104 pitches to mow down the Panthers. “I didn’t want to be thinking, ‘oh, I’ve got a no-hitter going; I’ve got to make the perfect pitch.’ I just relied on my defense and it all worked out.”
Keys kept the Panthers completely off-balance by mixing a deadly fastball with his other assortment of pitches.
In fact, Petal only hit two balls out of the infield in play all night, both off the bat of Peyton Swilley, a popup to shallow leftfield in the second inning and a fly ball to right to end the fourth.
“He had command of his pitches all night,” said Petal coach Larry Watkins. “When you can constantly hit the catcher’s mitt, you’re going to get some pitches.”
Panther starter Demarcus Evans (2-3) struggled with his control throughout his 4 1/3 innings of work. He left after walking two batters with one out in the fifth. He gave up four runs on four hits, struck out five and walked six.
“He wasn’t very sharp tonight, and the walks hurt him.” Watkins said. “And we didn’t get anything like that until the last inning. They got some big hits when they got some opportunities.”
Indeed, the Warriors cashed in their first good chance in the second when Lakon Wilson took an 0-2 pitch to right for an opposite-field RBI single to give Oak Grove a 1-0 lead.
But the biggest hit of the night was the one that gave Keys a two-run cushion in the fourth.
After Reed Simon drew a leadoff walk, Evans got two quick outs in succession, with Simon taking second on a slow groundout to the box. A wild pitch got the runner to third and Matthew Guidry delivered a run-scoring single.
It was all the more satisfying because Evans had struck out Guidry looking in both of his previous at-bats.
“He did make me look stupid,” said Guidry. “I just came in, my teammates picked me up and I’ve got to thank them for that, and my coaches got on me a little bit. I just had to get my mind right and find the right pitch to hit.”
The Warriors broke it open in the fifth, after Anthony Williams came on in relief of Evans. He walked the first batter he faced to load the bases, then Simon hit a little roller down the third base line.
Williams fielded it cleanly, but then he threw over the head of catcher Thad Roberts trying to get the runner out at the plate, allowing two runs to score.
Keys helped himself with an RBI single in the sixth to give himself more than enough margin for error going into the final two innings.
“My out pitch was my fastball,” Keys said. “Early, I couldn’t get my curveball to go, but toward the end I started getting it.”
The two teams will meet again at 7 p.m. Thursday at Oak Grove in the second game of the two-game series.
“When we come to play, we’re as good as anybody around,” McCardle said. “We know Petal’s got a good team, and they’ll be back at us on Thursday. We’ll enjoy this one tonight and get back after it tomorrow.”