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Vikings take opener at Tupelo, 4-3

Brent Towne is congratulated by pitcher Taylor Tankersley, right, after crossing the plate with his game-tying homer in the sixthh inning Thursday at Tupelo.(The Vicksburg Post/MARK THORNTON)

[05/04/01] TUPELO Warren Central is one win away from going to the state championship series.

Brent Towne led off the sixth inning with a home run to tie it and John Morgan Mims drove in the winning run as the Vikings nipped Tupelo, 4-3, to take the opening game of their much-anticipated North State championship series.

“We’re just glad to come home with a win,” said WC coach Sam Temple, whose team can clinch the series Saturday at 2 p.m. at Viking Field. “It means a lot to win this first one up here. This is a tough place to play.”

Two streaks came to an end Thursday.

Tupelo, which had won 23 in a row, snapped Taylor Tankersley’s string of shutouts at eight and ended his scoreless-inning streak at 64. The Vikings (33-3) also handed the Golden Wave (30-5) its first home loss this year.

“We won that’s all that matters to me,” said Tankersley, who was three shutouts and 16 innings short of the national records. “I’m probably more happy, because we had to battle. My teammates have so much heart … .”

Tankersley (12-0) struck out 11, walked one and hit one while allowing three hits and Mac Godwin (6-2) struck out nine, walked three and gave up four hits in 62/3 innings during a duel of left-handers.

Two of the biggest hits of the game came from batters who aren’t regulars in the lineup. Center fielder Chris Hite, who often makes way for a designated hitter, drove in the Vikings’ first run from the No. 9 spot. And the left-handed batting Mims, who usually sits out against southpaws, hit the game-winner from the No. 8 spot after Joey Lieberman followed Towne’s homer with a double up the third-base line.

“My grandfather was with me,” said Mims, whose grandfather, Crawford Mims, died two weeks ago.

“He was with me, because I needed help,” said Mims, who had struck out in his previous at-bat. “That’s why I had confidence … I wanted to hit.

“I went up there telling myself not to get behind. He threw a first-pitch fastball and I hit it.”

Temple wasn’t surprised that Mims came through. Asked why he penciled him in for the crucial game, Temple said, “Faith. We’ve been working with him and telling him what he needs to do against left-handers.

“We need him out there because he’s one of the guys who’s been in the fights before.”

After falling behind 2-0, then 3-2, Towne tied it again with one swing. His blast to left field bounced off the scoreboard on the second pitch of the sixth inning.

“He’s Mr. Clutch,” Temple said of Towne, who also hit a two-out, game-winning single in the bottom of the seventh against Madison Central in the second round.

“It was a fastball he left up,” Towne said. “I knew it was gone the second I hit it. It was one of those you don’t even feel.”

Tupelo took care of Tankersley’s streaks early, taking advantage of a pair of first-inning errors and a Godwin single to jump out 2-0.

“We talked all week about our guys not being intimidated,” Tupelo coach Larry Harmon said.

“We felt confident the whole time that we could score runs, but you’ve got to take advantage of opportunities when you get them, because you’re not going to get that many chances against (Tankersley),” he said, noting that his squad left the bases loaded in the fourth inning.

Harmon said that he feels good about his team’s chances if it wins at WC and forces Game 3 at Tupelo Monday.

“We’re both good ballclubs with good ballplayers,” he said. “We’re evenly matched … they just made two more plays than us tonight.”

After WC tied it on a single by Hite and a sacrifice fly by Brian Pettway in the third, Godwin launched a two-out homer in the bottom of the inning to give the home team the lead again, 3-2. It was the first homer off Tankersley this year.

“Taylor has gotten a lot of press about the shutouts, but his ultimate goal is to win, in any shape, form or fashion,” Temple said. “I’m proud of the way he battled back.”

In Game 2, Temple said he will pitch Carl Upton (10-0), who pitched a two-hit shutout to clinch the second-round series at Madison Central Saturday. Upton will face Sparky Smith (11-0), who pitched the last 11/3 innings Thursday, in a battle of junior right-handers.

Temple was happy to get a preview of Smith, who had a variety of off-speed pitches.

“He’s awfully nasty,” Temple said. “Carl just has to throw like he has and we have to play defense behind him.

“This group always says that they’re not the most talented guys in the world, but they’ll claw, scratch, bite and do anything for a W.’ “