Red-hot Gators, Rockets square off in Philadelphia|[04/18/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 18, 2008

Two hot teams are scheduled to meet in a first-round, Class 4A playoff series, which begins tonight at 6 in Philadelphia.

The Vicksburg Gators (20-5) winners of 13 straight games open a best-of-three series against the Neshoba Central Rockets (18-8) in Philadelphia. The series concludes Saturday with Game 2, and a third game, if necessary, at Warren Central’s Viking Field, beginning at 5 p.m.

Neshoba Central has won five straight games, including four in a row in Division 4-4A, to squeeze into the playoffs. But for VHS coach Jamie Creel, that’s not the biggest concern.

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“From everyone I’ve talked to, they have the best two pitchers of anybody in their division. Two quality arms and we have to play the first one on the road,” Creel said.

The Gators are expected to face lefty Austin Buchanan, who is coming off his best performance of the season when he struck out six in shutting down perennial power New Hope 6-1 in Columbus last Friday night.

Donnie Tabb is expected to go in game 2 and he is a hard-thrower. Behind the top pair, the Rockets also have Joel McKee, who picked up two of Neshoba’s five wins last week.

“We’ve been told they have good pitching, with the two best pitchers in their district. The guy we’ll see (today) is a lefty (Buchanan),” VHS left-fielder Trey Prentiss said.

The Gators will counter with a club that has a team batting average well over .300. Stanton Price leads the way with six home runs, 31 RBIs, and a .426 batting average. Catcher Blake Hynum has a team-best .484 average and also 28 RBIs, six homers, and 35 runs scored.

The Gators have five batters hitting over .360, including Prentiss, who has driven in 30 runs and sports a .375 average. Ryan Ferrington is hitting .390, while Brian Fitzgerald is hitting.406 with 19 RBIs. Fitzgerald credits a Creel lecture right after a tough loss to West Ouachita in the Monroe Tournament for turning around the club.

“Coach Creel got on us after the three losses in Louisiana,” Fitzgerald said. “That made us step up. We hadn’t been playing up to our potential to that point.”

They certainly have done so in the last month. They beat rival Warren Central twice and then reeled off 10 straight wins against division opponents to lay claim to the title. They finished off the streak by crushing Divsion 4-5A champ Clinton 10-1 last Saturday at Viking Field.

Good pitching and defense has been a key. Price will likely get the call in Game 1 on the mound. He is 5-1 with a 1.06 earned run average and 49 strikeouts.

Fitzgerald (3-1, 2.45 ERA) and Andrew Brown (2-1, 2.95) will likely go on Saturday. The Gator pitchers will have to contend with a potent Rocket lineup.

Tabb had six hits in the five-game streak, including two home runs and two doubles. Scott Lowery, John Blount and Dustin Floyd also had multiple hit games in the past week.

Vicksburg High leadersBatting averageBlake Hynum…………………484Stanton Price…………………426Brian Fitzgerald………………406Ryan Ferrington……………..391PitchingStanton Price………………..5-1, 1.06 ERABrian Fitzgerald……………..3-1, 2.45 ERAAndrew Brown……………….2-1, 2.95 ERA