Clarke powers Clinton to division championship, 6-3|[04/08/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 8, 2008

CLINTON — Clinton High claimed the division championship Monday night with a 6-3 victory over Warren Central.

Now the Vikings (6-16, 4-2) will attempt to avoid a first-round playoff trip to highly touted Tupelo.

“Execution is the key and they did it all night,” WC coach Randy Broome said. “They turned a couple double plays that were big and (Josh) Clarke pitched a good game. Our guys did too, though.”

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Clarke, the Arrows’ ace pitcher, and WC’s Jonathan Longmire went toe-to-toe all night. Clarke did not allow a hit until the Vikings’ sixth inning, while Longmire allowed only a first-inning run before Clinton opened the game in the bottom of the sixth.

Longmire, who pitched his first game of the season less than two weeks ago against Madison Central, got in a jam in the sixth when Adam Thigpen led off with his second double of the game. Three straight bunts — a single, fielder’s choice and an error — led to two Arrow runs and a 3-1 lead.

With the bases loaded, Clarke belted a bases-clearing double to give Clinton a 6-1 lead.

“We got a few key bunts down and got (WC) in some situations,” Clinton coach Eddie Lofton said. “We finally had an inning there in the sixth where we could play some small-ball and do some things we like to do.”

With the big lead, Clarke took the hill in the seventh inning and immediately ran into trouble. He walked Dustin Hardin, then Jason Pettway singled and Cody Barfield hit an RBI single to get the deficit down to four. After a double play — the Arrows’ second of the night — Clarke hit Heath Carroll and pinch runner Dee White scored on an error as WC got to within three.

With runners on first and third, Clarke struck out Longmire to end the game.

Clinton (15-8, 7-1) still has to play Provine once more while the Vikings are scheduled for three games against Greenville. The first of those three is scheduled for Wednesday. If WC finishes second in the division, it will travel likely to Southaven. Clinton will be at home for at least the first round of the playoffs.

“We had a chance to win a district championship and I thought our kids fought for it,” Broome said. “Hats off to Clinton, they played well.”

Clarke allowed three hits — one in the sixth and two in the seventh — and he struck out seven.

“He’s our bulldog,” Lofton said. “When he goes out there on the mound, we have a chance to beat anybody. He pitched a great game.”