PCA armed, ready for Amite in second round

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 1, 2001

[05/01/01] The tune-ups are over. The scouting is done. After watching the rest of the Academy-A playoff teams slug it out in the first round, the Porters Chapel Academy Eagles are ready to put their feet in the fire.

PCA (17-10), which received a bye in the first round, will open tonight at 7 with a second-round series at Amite (17-13). Games 2 and 3, if necessary, will be played as a doubleheader Thursday at 4:30 p.m. at PCA.

“We’ve played, but seeing these other teams in the playoffs, it has us a little excited. We’re anxious and ready to play,” PCA coach Randy Wright said.

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Wright and the Eagles got some good news over the weekend when they found out their starting shortstop was also ready to play.

Clayton Hensley, who missed three games last week while battling a case of shingles, was back at practice Saturday and will be in the lineup tonight.

“It’s just an old man’s chicken pox. It made me have a high fever and kept me in bed for a couple of days,” said Hensley, who is hitting .303 with 21 RBIs and 23 stolen bases this season. “I’m 100 percent right now. It’s not going to affect me, and I’m glad to be back out here.”

The Eagles stayed busy during their week off by scouting Amite’s first-round series against Glenbrook and playing three games against Academy-AA and AAA teams, which don’t start their playoffs until this week.

Despite losing two of the three by one run, Wright was encouraged by the Eagles’ effort. Six of PCA’s regular starters raised their averages over .300 in the last two weeks of the season, and Wright said the season-long funk at the plate was finally over.

“Everybody’s starting to swing the bats a little better before we hit the playoffs, and that’s something that we need,” Wright said.

If things go as planned for PCA, hitting isn’t something Amite will be doing a lot of. Wright will start ace Heath Smith, who enters the contest with 118 strikeouts and a 0.61 ERA. Smith (8-1) has allowed only six earned runs and 32 hits in 68 innings.

“Anytime we play baseball and Heath Smith is on the mound, we’re more confident. They’re a different team,” Wright said.

Hensley said winning the first game of the best-of-three series is important, especially with the possibility of getting to close out the series in Vicksburg. It’s the third straight trip to the playoffs for PCA, but the first time in that run that the Eagles have had home-field advantage.

“It sets the tone for the series. From there on out, you’ve got the lead hand and it’s very hard to get beat twice on your own field,” Hensley said. “Our team is going to be more mentally prepared for (tonight’s) game than any other game this season. I think we finally realize that a lack of mental focus is the only thing holding us back.”