Gators feed off hostile crowds|[05/02/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 2, 2008

Three road playoff wins have landed Vicksburg High’s baseball team an unprecedented spot in the third round.

Some say its the focus the road trips bring, others say there are fewer distractions, and some others find motivation from the opposing team’s fans.

Vicksburg (24-7) will get to add to its road prowess this weekend when they play a third-round, Class 4A series with New Albany. Game 1 is set for Warren Central’s Viking Field today at 6. Game 2 will be in New Albany on Saturday, and a Game 3, if necessary, is also set for New Albany on Monday.

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One bit of advice for New Albany fans — don’t make the Gators mad.

“I have to say its been more fun beating them at their house,” Gator first baseman Kurt Cooksey said before Wednesday’s practice.

“I think its the crowd. At Oxford they were all around us. At Neshoba Central, they had this one fan, who was obnoxious. Oxford had more of them,” Cooksey said.

It was at Neshoba Central where the Gators won the first of their three playoff games, 7-0, in Game 1 of a first-round series. They then came back to Vicksburg to win the series in three games.

If you go6 p.m. – New Albany (26-7) vs. Vicksburg (24-5), at W. CentralAgainst Oxford, the Gators lost Game 1 at WC, 13-10. That put them with a daunting task of having to win two games on Oxford’s home field to advance to the third round for the first time in school history.

“It was unbelievable,” Gator left fielder Trey Prentiss said of the huge crowd that greeted the Gators for Games 2 and 3 at Oxford High. “There were a lot of people in right field and a lot of them were on a hill by the dugout. It felt like they were right on top of you.”

The Gators won Game 2, 9-2, and then wrapped up the series with a 7-4 win in Game 3. Prentiss was able to silence many of the Oxford faithful up by launching a key, two-run homer in Game 3.

“It was an 0-2 curveball and I went down like Tiger Woods and just golfed it,” Prentiss said.

Left-handed ace Stanton Price, who pitched his third complete game of the playoffs in Saturday’s Game 2 win, picked up a save in Game 3 by getting the last four outs. He said the ornery crowds served as a great motivator.

“They like to yell and say things, but once they start losing, they pretty much shut up,” Price said. “Those fans tend to come in thinking their team is better than us.”

Weather UpdatesAs the Gators center fielder, Delmon Robinson gets a good share of the abuse from the behind the fences.

“It’s a part of baseball. Up in Oxford, they got on me good,” Robinson said, and it wasn’t because he is going to play football at Mississippi State next fall. “I just had to keep my composure and live with the taunts. It was all about playing.”

Robinson did his talk with his glove, running down two shots in the final two innings to save Price and the Gators.

“He’s saved enough runs for me,” Price said.

“They hit one ball pretty good, and it was running away from me, but I’m just glad God blessed me with this speed to run it down,” Robinson said.

Even the bench guys get their share of grief between innings.

“Some grown men were getting on our JV guys, who come out to throw with the outfielders, calling them ‘Bench Bandits,'” Gator outfielder Brian Fitzgerald said.

Bowen Woodson, who like Prentiss, has hit two home runs in the playoffs, said the Gators have taken a measured approach to the road.

“On the bus ride we just seem to get focused. When we get to the cage, we’re ready. Facing elimination got our focus where it needed to be,” Woodson said.