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Vicksburg poised for playoff run

[4/22/04]Last year, Vicksburg High reached the second round of the playoffs for the first time in school history.

Despite losing all four infield starters to graduation, the Gators built upon last season with a Division 6-5A championship this year the first in coach Jamie Creel’s five-year tenure.

Now the Gators (17-9) hope to continue climbing as they head into the Class 5A playoffs against St. Martin, the runner-up from Division 7-5A.

Vicksburg hosts St. Martin tonight at 7, and will travel to the Gulf Coast on Saturday for game two at 2 p.m. If a third game is necessary, Vicksburg will host the Yellowjackets (20-9) on Monday.

“When it comes to the playoffs and you’ve never played someone before, you’re going to have to play to your strengths and hope that’s going to be good enough to win,” Creel said.

And one of those strengths is pitching. The team rode the arms of its powerful left-handers all season. Through the weekend, the Gators had a miniscule team ERA of 3.10.

They will send their ace James Jackson (4-2, 1.47 ERA) to the mound tonight and will follow with John Hendrix (7-2, 3.30 ERA) on Saturday. Steven Price (2-1, 2.27 ERA) also is available either for relief or to start game three, should the teams split.

St. Martin comes in off a huge 4-0 shutout of division champion Ocean Springs which will host Warren Central tonight. The Yellowjackets needed the victory to make the playoffs and delivered.

Creel and WC coach Randy Broome attended the game to scout the two teams. Creel said he noticed the Yellowjackets don’t steal many bases or bunt runners over.

“They kind of sit back and play big ball a little bit,” he said. “They try to play for the big inning.”

Vicksburg, however, has run into problems with poor hitting in recent weeks. In the last six games, the Gators have gone 3-3, while averaging just over three runs scored.

For the year, they’re hitting .271 with five home runs. Only four players are batting over .300, led by Jackson’s .364 average.

“We’ve got to start hitting the ball better,” Creel said. “If we don’t hit in the playoffs, it’s not going to be a very long experience for us.”

The Gators also have committed a lot of fielding mistakes. In the three most recent losses, they have allowed an average of nine runs per game.

“We’re going to have to play some defense in these games,” Price said. “We’ve just got to concentrate. Everybody’s got to be into it.”

But Jackson expects his fielders behind him to be ready tonight.

“When the playoffs come, we get more mentally focused for some reason. I don’t know why,” he said.

If the Gators take the series, they will face the winner between Oak Grove and Long Beach.

“Everybody’s enthusiastic,” Price said. “We have a good shot at going pretty far.”