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Barlow’s bomb blasts nemesis Rebels

Porters Chapel Academy’s Aaron Curry scurries back to first base as Heidelberg pitcher Brooks Lewis throws over during the first game of the Academy-A state championship series. (C. Todd ShermanThe Vicksburg Post)

[5/14/03]Humphrey Barlow provided the heroics. Ryan Hoben provided plenty of drama. And Porters Chapel Academy provided its fans with a feeling of deja v.

Barlow hit a tiebreaking home run in the bottom of the sixth inning, then Hoben pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh as PCA (28-2) beat Heidelberg (26-2) in Game 1 of the Academy-A championship series Tuesday night, 5-4.

“It feels good, but they’re a good team, and we’ve still got one more to win. It’s the same thing as (2001), we lost two games over there. We’ve still got to win another one,” said Barlow, who was 2-for-2 with the home run, a single and a walk.

PCA can win its first state championship by beating Heidelberg (26-2) on the road in either Game 2 or Game 3 on Friday. Game 2 will begin at 4:30 p.m., with Game 3 following if necessary. It’s the same situation PCA was in two years ago, when it won Game 1 of the state finals at home against Heidelberg strangely enough, with a walk-off home run but lost the next two games.

“We certainly know what kind of team they are,” PCA coach Randy Wright said. “We beat them one run two years ago and went down there and got beat twice, so we know what can happen.”

The Eagles won Game 1 on Tuesday despite playing one of their worst games of the season. Hoben, who had walked only 21 batters all season, surrendered seven free passes two of them with the bases loaded and hit two other batters. He also struck out eight, scattered six hits, and helped his own cause by going 1-for-2 with a walk, single, and three RBIs.

The defense, which hadn’t committed an error in the team’s first four playoff games, booted three easy groundballs. Two errors in the fifth inning allowed Heidelberg to score two runs and tie the game at 3-3 despite not getting a hit.

Hoben hit Ryan Aultman with a pitch with one out in the fifth, then Barlow booted a grounder and made a bad throw to first that skidded in the dirt to the fence. Hoben walked Mason Key to load the bases and, after getting Blake Bass to pop up, walked J.R. Stephenson to force in a run.

Another bobbled grounder, this time by shortstop Chip Lofton, allowed the tying run to score.

“We put ourselves in these situations all night. We let them get runners on, made a few errors and gave up a few walks, and that’s uncharacteristic of what we’ve done. You can’t give a good team baserunners,” Wright said. “We gave them a lot of baserunners tonight with errors and walks, and we are very, very fortunate that we got out of here with a win tonight.”

The score stayed tied until the sixth, when Barlow led off and quickly fell behind in the count 0-2.

Heidelberg pitcher Brooks Lewis tried to sneak a fastball past Barlow on the inside corner, but got a little too much of the plate. Barlow jumped on it and drove the ball over the left field fence to put PCA ahead 4-3.

“The kid did a good job,” Heidelberg coach Tom Lewis said. “We threw him an 0-2 fastball, we tried to sneak it by him on the inside corner, and hey, it happens in the major leagues, in colleges and all the way down. If you don’t get it down, they hit it out of the park. We just really made a mistake.”

Hoben followed the homer with a walk, but Wes Massey bunted into a fielder’s choice and Michael Shinn flied to right for the second out. Just when it looked like PCA would have to make do with a one-run lead and a struggling pitcher, Gerald Mims came through in a big way.

PCA’s No. 9 hitter drove a ball to the gap in right center that hit the wall on one hop and bounced away from Heidelberg center fielder Matthew Andrews, allowing Massey to score from first to give PCA a 5-3 lead. Mims ended up at second with an RBI double.

The extra run turned out to be huge for the Eagles. Key and Bass started the seventh with back-to-back singles, and Derek Griffin drew a one-out walk to load the bases.

Hoben then struck out Heidelberg’s No. 9 hitter, Joe McLeod, before allowing a bases-loaded walk to Brent Welch that drew the Rebels to within one run, 5-4. Hoben got Andrews to sky a fly ball to right center, but even that wasn’t without some adventure.

Mims lost the ball off the bat, and was waiting for Chase Towne to come over from center to take the ball. When Towne didn’t come, Mims had to find the ball again and haul it in for the third out.

“I felt like I had to do it for the team,” Hoben said of finding his way out of the jam. “I couldn’t let them down. We’ve been too long together.”

The seventh-inning rally was the third time Heidelberg left the bases loaded in the game. They also loaded the bases in the fourth and fifth without getting a hit either time and stranded eight runners in scoring position in all.

“We just didn’t get it done at the plate,” Tom Lewis said. “But good pitching usually overcomes good hitting, and (Hoben) battled tonight. I thought he did an extremely good job. That’s the way a state championship game series should be.”

Both starting pitchers struggled with their control from the beginning. Hoben walked two batters in the first inning but escaped without allowing a run, while Brooks Lewis walked three straight batters with two outs in the bottom of the first. Two of those runners scored on Hoben’s single to center that put PCA ahead 2-0.

The lead lasted until the top of the third, when Hoben hung a curveball, and Welch launched it into the parking lot beyond the center field fence to cut it to 2-1. It was Heidelberg’s first hit of the game, and gave the Rebels a boost after struggling against Hoben for the first two innings.

The series now shifts to Heidelberg, with PCA looking to finish what it couldn’t in 2001. That experience has left the Eagles knowing that the series is a long way from over.

Heidelberg, meanwhile, was optimistic. The Rebels also know there’s a lot of baseball yet to be played, and they have a team capable of pulling off the doubleheader sweep.

“I just reminded them that we do have the advantage of being the home team,” Tom Lewis said. “But they’ve still got a good team and we can’t be discouraged. We’ve got to play our game and work harder. We’ve got a big job to do now.”