Eagles ascend to new heights: PCA captures first state championship
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 20, 2003
[5/17/03]HEIDELBERG The similarities were striking.
Just like two years ago, Porters Chapel Academy ventured down to Heidelberg with a chance to clinch its first baseball state championship. Just like two years ago, PCA was routed in Game 2 of the state finals. And just like two years ago, tears flowed down the Eagles’ cheeks as they received supportive hugs from their parents after the game.
Thanks to Ryan Hoben, the similarities ended there. This time, the tears and hugs were those of joy.
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Hoben struck out 12 in throwing a one-hit shutout against Heidelberg (27-3), one of the best hitting teams in Mississippi, to lead PCA (29-3) to a 9-0 win in Game 3 of the series on Friday, landing PCA its first Academy-A state title in school history.
Heidelberg, which swept PCA in a doubleheader to win the 2001 state title, had hit 66 home runs this season. Against Hoben, the closest they got was a couple of fly balls to the warning track in center.
“God bless America, how good is this kid?” PCA coach Randy Wright said as he smiled and threw an arm around his pitcher. “He just threw a one-hit shutout in the state championship final game against the best-hitting team to ever walk the earth. That’s unreal, son.”
The championship is also the first for PCA in any boys sport, and the first for coach Randy Wright in eight seasons at the helm of the Eagles. After the game, he sat stunned in the dugout, not quite ready to digest the accomplishment, as Eagles fans congratulated him.
“I can’t describe the feeling,” Wright said. “Words cannot express the joy and the good feeling that I have in me right now.”
After suffering a humiliating 13-5 loss in Game 2 that snapped its 23-game winning streak, PCA bounced right back in Game 3. Andrew Embry hit a two-run homer in the top of the first, and PCA went on to score in every inning but the second.
The Eagles added an unearned run in the third and another run in the fourth when Chip Lofton walked and eventually scored on a wild pitch, before finally blowing the game open in the fifth.
Josh Rush led off the inning with a double, Humphrey Barlow followed with a walk, and Hoben and Wes Massey both came up with clutch RBI singles to increase the lead to 6-0.
“I was never concerned,” Wright said. “Once we got four runs, five runs, six runs, it was night-night.”
PCA added another run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Chase Towne and two more in the seventh, but Hoben already had plenty to work with.
He retired the first 10 batters he faced six of them on strikeouts before allowing a one-out walk to Matthew Andrews in the fourth. It was a rare slip-up for Hoben, but his defense quickly bailed him out as he threw Andrews out at third following an errant pickoff throw.
Andrews was out by a step, and the bases were cleared again. Heidelberg didn’t get another runner past second base.
“That took a lot of pressure off me, having no runners on and two outs,” Hoben said.
Hoben scattered three walks the rest of the way, as well as a clean single up the middle by Derek Griffin in the fifth for Heidelberg’s only hit. He struck out three of the last four batters he faced, including J.R. Stephenson for the final out.
Fittingly, Hoben got Stephenson looking at a fastball for the last strike. All night, it was a dominating fastball that was his best pitch.
“Without Hoben, we kicked their tail. That’s as plain as the nose on your face,” Heidelberg coach Tom Lewis said. “They got one guy that kicked our butt, and we kicked the rest of them. Without him, we kick their butt easily.”
The dominating effort was a marked difference from the first game on Friday Game 2 of the series.
PCA took a quick 2-0 lead in the top of the first of that game, but Heidelberg answered with an 11-run outburst in the third to blow the game open. The Rebels sent 16 batters to the plate in the inning, and hit two home runs.
Stephenson belted a grand slam to put Heidelberg ahead 5-2, and Brent Welch added a two-run shot later in the inning.
Embry said he struggled to adjust to the mound and was shelled for 10 runs and five hits in 2 2/3 innings.
Joseph Ivey relieved Embry in the third and allowed four straight hits as Heidelberg increased its lead to 12-2. Heidelberg added another run in the sixth on a solo homer by Welch, but the Eagles were able to stop the bleeding and regroup for Game 3.
They scored single runs in the fourth, fifth, and seventh to cut it to 13-5, and didn’t seem fazed by the rout between games.
“We just knew when we came out in the first game, we didn’t hit. We’ve got that slow-pitcher jinx,” PCA catcher Josh Rush said, referring to Heidelberg’s Paul Zeagler, who held PCA to three runs and five hits in six innings. “We can’t hit a slow pitcher. We shelled (Ryan Aultman) in the first game, and they put him back in there and we hit him again.”