• 52°

Warren Central wins opener, 13-3

Joey Lieberman is all smiles as he gives Warren Central teammate Tom Corbin a piggyback ride after the Vikings’ 13-3 win over Hattiesburg in Game 1 of the state championship series. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[05/11/01] Throughout the playoffs, Warren Central has longed to face a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher.

Thursday, the Vikings (35-3) got their wish and they made the most of it.

Brian Pettway belted four of the Vikings’ 13 hits and the WC offense battered three Hattiesburg pitchers for a resounding 13-3, mercy rule-shortened Game 1 of the Class 5A state championship in front of an estimated 1,500 at Viking Field.

Game 2 of the best-of-three series will be Saturday at Hattiesburg’s Smokie Harrington Park at 6 p.m.

“The story tonight was that our sticks showed up,” said WC coach Sam Temple, who had been firing batting practice from about 20 feet away all week to simulate the Tigers’ (30-8) pitchers. “We talked about it all week that those guys were going to come in and challenge us with the fastball and our guys were excited.

“There are not a lot of bunches out there in the world that when you tell them somebody’s going to come in there and throw 90 mile per hour fastballs by you, you see a bunch of smiles.”

The Vikings saw a steady diet of left-handed pitching throughout the playoffs and their three losses in the regular season were against lefties.

On Thursday, with Mississippi State signee Craig Tatum (7-3) and Ole Miss signee Josh Grant each topping out over 90, WC had little trouble making any adjustments.

“We knew coming in they had three great pitchers and they used two tonight,” Pettway said. “They didn’t look like they had their stuff.”

Meridian Community College signee Brent Towne had three singles and a pair of RBIs, while Joey Lieberman had an RBI double and Chris Hite had a pair of singles. John Morgan Mims scored all three times he got on and courtesy runner Jeff Mitchell scored every time he came into run for four more Vikings’ runs.

“We live for right-handed pitchers that try to come in here and throw it past us,” said junior John Morgan Mims, who had a single and scored the first Viking run. “That’s what (Temple) preaches around here, to do that.”

Tatum, the most well-rested of the three Tigers’ pitching standouts, got the start, but lasted just 2 2/3 innings, allowing five runs on six hits. Grant lasted just 1 2/3 innings and allowed four runs on four hits.

“(Tatum) was fresh and he had been dominating for most of the year,” said a visibly upset HHS coach Larry Knight, who made his team run windsprints for about 15 minutes after the game. “Josh had thrown a lot of innings so we tried to mix things up and do something different, but he didn’t rise to the challenge.”

Warren Central capitalized on countless Hattiesburg mistakes, including seven walks, five wild pitches, three passed balls and a pair of errors to break open a 1-1 game in the third inning. Nine of the Vikings’ runs came with two outs.

“It was embarrassing,” said Knight, who led his alma mater to three state championships in the 1990s. “I’ve never had a team get to this point and play like that. It’s totally embarrassing. Our guys did not compete. On the mound we did just a horrible job and that spread over to our defense. This was the last thing I expected.”

Alabama signee Taylor Tankersley (13-0) scattered five hits, walked three and struck out four to earn the win. The Tigers had runners on base in five of the six innings, but scored just single runs in the third, fifth and sixth innings.

“Once we got a guy or two on base, he really competed and I give him credit for that,” said Ole Miss signee Billy Porter, who had one of the Tigers’ five hits, but was picked off in the third. “Our guys at the plate didn’t do a good job.”

After Hattiesburg tied the game at 1 in the third, WC broke the game open in the bottom half of the inning.

Tankersley led off with a walk, then Pettway singled and Carl Upton’s unusual infield single scored Mitchell, who was running for Tankersley.

Upton blooped a sinking line drive between the mound and first base. Tatum lunged to make a diving catch, but the ball skipped off his glove into foul territory on what would have been the third out of the inning.

“It was one of those plays where if he makes a great catch, then great; if he lets it drop, it either rolls foul or he throws him out,” Knight said. “Unfortunately we didn’t make the play and it snowballed from there.”

Tyler DeRossette was then hit by a pitch, Kyle Simmons reached on an error and Hite had an RBI single to give the Vikings a 5-1 lead and chase Tatum.

“I was expecting to break it open early in the game,” Hite said with a chuckle. “We had a lot of opportunities.”

With the cushion, Tankersley pitched the top of the fourth like he has been all year. The senior, who came into the game with a 0.39 ERA, struck out Tatum, Grant and Tennessee football signee Chris Heath all swinging to end the Tigers half of the fourth.

“I just didn’t have my best stuff tonight,” Tankersley said. “Once you realize you don’t have your best stuff, you have to battle and win and that’s what I tried my best to do.”

A walk and back-to-back singles by Pettway and Towne led to two more WC runs and a 7-1 lead after the fourth.

Hattiesburg cut the lead in the top of the fifth to 7-2, but a Pettway two-RBI double, followed by an RBI double by Lieberman gave the Vikings a 10-2 lead after the fifth.

“We just jumped on them,” Pettway said. “We’ve been facing hard pitching all week in practice with Coach Temple throwing his guts out and tonight we did a great job hitting.”

Hattiesburg chipped away in the top of the sixth with one run, but with two outs and runners on second and third, Connor Bills hit a high chopper over the pitcher’s head. Lieberman came clear across the infield, scooped the ball on the second base side of the mound and gunned out Bills to keep the WC lead at 10-3.

Three walks by the Tigers third pitcher, Adrian Hibbler, coupled with a Pettway RBI single gave WC a 12-3 lead and Towne’s bloop single to right scored Mitchell for the game-ending run.

Cliff Russum, who is coming off a one-hitter against Meridian, will take the mound in Saturday’s second game against Carl Upton.

Temple said Russum, another hard-throwing right-hander who signed to play at Southern Mississippi, is the Tigers’ most complete pitcher.

“It’s gonna be a war,” Temple said. “We know we have a tough pitcher in front of us in Russum. He’s a battler and a warrior and I know (Knight) feels good about going into the second game with his warrior.

“Hopefully, tonight has us feeling good with the sticks and we’re able to carry on.”