Amite gets revenge; Eagles look to next season

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 3, 2002

RANDY WRIGHT, PCA’s coach, tries to get his troops fired up between innings.(The Vicksburg Post/ERNEST BOWKER)

[05/03/02]LIBERTY John Birdsong’s performance in Game 1 of the second-round Academy-A playoff series between Amite and Porters Chapel Academy was one he’d rather not remember.

The Amite senior’s effort in Game 2 was one PCA won’t forget until next February.

Birdsong went 2-for-3 with a pair of home runs, including a go-ahead two-run shot in the third inning, and drove in three runs to lead Amite to a 6-2 win and a sweep of PCA in the best-of-three series.

Josh LeGrange and Clay Kirkland also had two hits apiece for Amite (16-5), which will face either Glenbrook or Franklin for the South State title next week. The Rebels also avenged a second-round loss to PCA in last year’s playoffs.

Josh Rush homered and Chase Towne and Wes Massey each had two hits for PCA, which ended its season with a 19-7 record.

“It’s awesome. Last year they blew us out, error after error,” said Birdsong, who walked three batters and gave up three runs in only 1/3 of an inning in Game 1. “Revenge is bad.”

The loss left PCA short of its goal of a state championship, but the Eagles did exceed some expectations. PCA lost seven senior starters from the 2001 state runner-up team, yet went undefeated in conference play and reached the playoffs and won at least 19 games for the fourth straight season.

PCA will lose only one senior starter, shortstop T.J. Smith, and should be a factor in the 2003 state title chase.

“The future’s bright,” PCA coach Randy Wright said. “These guys winning a district championship and getting playoff experience will help toward next year, but it doesn’t help the disappointment right now.”

It wasn’t hard to find the source of Wright’s disappointment. After allowing six unearned runs in an 11-7 loss in Game 1, PCA squandered an early lead in Game 2 and had two late rallies come up short.

Trailing 6-2 in the sixth, the Eagles had runners on first and second with one out when Gerald Mims lined a bunt back at Amite pitcher Stewart Gordon. Gordon made a diving catch and doubled Massey off of first to end the inning.

“We started getting up. That was a perfect bunt, and (Gordon) just dove and grabbed it. He made a great play,” Rush said.

In the seventh, Andrew Embry fouled off a half-dozen pitches with two strikes on him before reaching on an infield single, and Towne followed with a single to right to put the tying run on deck.

The Eagles never brought it to the plate, though. The season ended with a strikeout.

“We could not come up with a hit with two outs. There were several occasions in this series that we had two or three runners on with two outs, and I don’t think we got a hit in that situation,” Wright said. “I can’t explain it. We just didn’t do it.”

Amite’s Jeremy Perkins drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the first and eventually scored on a groundout by Austin Bean to give the Rebels a 1-0 lead, but Rush quickly tied it with a controversial solo homer down the left-field line in the second inning.

The ball appeared to pass over the foul pole, creating some confusion. The third-base umpire called it foul, while the home-plate umpire ruled it a homer. After a brief discussion, during which Rush trotted around the bases, the plate umpire’s call prevailed.

“It looked fair to me,” Rush said.

PCA took the lead in the third when pitcher Ryan Hoben (5-3) scored on a groundout by Barlow, but Amite rallied for four runs in the third to take the lead for good.

Bean scored on an RBI single by William Dillon to tie the game, and Birdsong followed with a homer to left-center to make it 4-2.

“We had a hit-and-run on and he threw me a pitch at the knees and I hit it in the trees,” Birdsong said, adding that the homer relaxed the Rebels.

“We got all the kinks out and settled down a little bit …”

Amite added an unearned run in the third, and Birdsong led off the fifth with a solo homer to nearly the same spot as his first one to make it 6-2.

Gordon made it hold up with his defense and his pitching. Despite PCA’s late rallies, Gordon (6-2) was rarely more than one good pitch away from escaping the jam.

“I definitely felt like we had the best team in single-A, and it’s very disappointing to come down here and lose,” Wright said. “Amite did an outstanding job. They took it to us, and they were the better team this week.”