Embry helps Wright, Eagles extinguish Flames, 5-3

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 5, 2002

[04/05/02]Seven years of frustration came to a screeching halt for Randy Wright and the Porters Chapel Academy Eagles Thursday night.

Andrew Embry scattered four hits, struck out 15 batters and hit a go-ahead, two-run home run in the fifth inning as PCA (13-4) beat perennial power University Christian (12-5-1) for the first time in Wright’s seven-year stint as coach, 5-3.

T.J. Smith also hit a two-run homer for the Eagles, whose losing streak to the Flames currently ranked No. 4 in The Clarion Ledger’s Academy poll had included 12 regular season games and two playoff series under Wright.

The teams were in the same conference for many years, and Wright said UC which won four straight state titles in 1997-2000 and advanced to the state finals in six straight seasons was the benchmark by which he measured his teams.

“Out of all the games I’ve coached, this one is right up there with the best of them,” Wright said. “Winning the South State championship last year, winning the district championship last year and beating University Christian here today, for me as a coach, this is something I’ve been working here for.

“That’s the elite program of the 1990s right there.”

Ross Myers and Kevin Ward each had two hits for UC, and ace pitcher Jeremy Phillips was solid. He allowed only five hits and no walks while striking out 12 in six innings, but made two costly mistakes that Embry and Smith hit out of the ballpark.

“Jeremy Phillips is still one of the best in the state, a great pitcher, and we’re going to come back,” UC coach Marcus Conoy said. “This is probably the shot in the arm that we needed. Those rankings came out, and I think our guys started believing that. It’s one game, and we’ve got depth. We got to see their depth and they’re going to see our depth. When you get into the playoffs, it’s a three-game series, not a one-game deal.”

In the past, it was University Christian that had gotten the breaks, big hits and late rallies against PCA. Thursday, however, things finally went the Eagles’ way.

After falling behind 3-0 early, the Eagles tied the game with three runs in the bottom of the fourth.

Third baseman Josh Rush had been hit on the right hand while swinging at a pitch in the second inning. The ball cut his index finger and hurt his thumb, and when he came up in the fourth with two outs and a runner at second, he had to grip the bat with three fingers.

After working the count full, Rush fought off a high slider for a bloop single into right. Chase Towne scored to make it 3-1, and Smith followed with his blast to left-center to tie the game.

“I just squeezed the bat as tight as I could and I swung … My first at-bat he threw me a slider just like that and he got me on it, so I was looking for it on the second at-bat,” said Rush, who was told by trainers he would likely lose the fingernail on his thumb unless he cut it open after the game to drain blood from it.

Smith’s homer gave PCA momentum, and Embry gave them the lead in the fifth.

After PCA catcher Ryan Hoben singled with two outs, Embry, who had struck out in his first two at-bats, quickly fell behind in the count 0-2. Phillips left a fastball over the plate, however, and Embry crushed it over the center field fence to give the Eagles a 5-3 lead.

“They’re a well-coached team, they hung around and battled and they made us pay for our mistakes. There were two 0-2 pitches that were not supposed to have been thrown across the plate and they were,” Conoy said.

Phillips didn’t allow another hit, but Embry was on his game, too. After allowing a leadoff single to Kevin Ward in the sixth and nearly picking him off first twice Embry struck out five of the last six batters he faced to finally end UC’s hex over the Eagles.

“Stuff always seems to happen to us, but Drew was pitching good tonight. I figured he was going to come through for us,” Rush said.

Embry shut down the Flames after a wild second inning where he surrendered three runs on four walks, including two free passes with the bases loaded. He didn’t walk any batters after the second inning and picked off two base runners.

“I had a good first inning. I got a little anxious, pumped up, a little excited, and I tried to throw a little bit harder than I was in the first inning,” said Embry, who struck out the side in order in the first.

Embry was also helped by a “pep talk” from Wright after he had walked No. 9 hitter Josh Buckner to bring in UC’s second run.

“You can’t print what I said,” Wright said with a laugh. “I really got on him and told him it was time for him to step up and pitch us to a win in a big game.”

Although he chewed Embry out during the game, Wright praised him afterward.

“Fifteen strikeouts against the No. 4 team in the state is phenomenal,” Wright said.

“For him to step up and throw like he threw tonight, I can’t speak loudly enough for him. He did an outstanding job pitching for us tonight.”