Gators go on to 4A semifinals|[05/04/08]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 4, 2008

NEW ALBANY – The Road Warriors are getting a much-appreciated Monday off.

The Vicksburg Gators, who have had to win a deciding third game in series victories over Neshoba Central and Oxford, defeated New Albany on Saturday night 14-5 to avoid another deciding game on the road.

“We’ll have a light hitting day on Monday, get after it on Tuesday and have a light day on Wednesday,” said Vicksburg coach Jamie Creel, who will lead the Gators to their first North State championship game against either Lafayette County or Tishomingo County. “The most important thing for us now is to let the kids have fun. This is the furthest Vicksburg has made it and I am proud of our guys. Hopefully we can go out and smell a North State championship.”

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Tishomingo and Lafayette were scheduled to play their first game tonight. Game 1 of that series was postponed by bad weather on Friday. The first game of the North State championship is scheduled for Thursday.

“Lafayette started out 2-6 and now they are 26-7, so they obviously are playing good baseball,” Creel said. “I heard Tishomingo County has as solid a pitching staff as we will see all year with two lefties and two righties all throwing over 85.”

Tornadoes ripped through North Mississippi on Friday night, including tornadoes in New Albany. It was first thought that several players’ houses were destroyed, but that wasn’t the case. Storms ripped through the south side of New Albany, but spared the team’s home park at the New Albany SportsPlex.

Despite New Albany’s distractions – the storm, the game 1 loss and Saturday’s senior prom – the Bulldogs grabbed a 2-0 first-inning lead and led 5-4 in the fifth inning. VHS’ senior standout Stanton Price crushed a home run to right field to tie the game at 5 and Vicksburg blew it open in the sixth.

The Gators sent nine batters to the plate and scored six runs to take an 11-5 lead. Andrew Brown hit an RBI double and Ryan Ferrington scored on a passed ball for a 7-5 lead. Relief pitcher Brooks Foster then walked pinch-hitter Blake Tarnabine to put runners at first and third with one out. The Bulldogs elected to intentionally walk Price, who is hitting .740 in the postseason, to load the bases.

Trey Prentiss ripped a double down the right field line to score a pair of runs to make it 9-5 Vicksburg. For Prentiss, getting the chance following an intentional walk to Price is not uncommon.

“It’s like the second or third time teams have put him on to load the bases for me, and I came through” Prentiss said.

Kurt Cooksey followed with a two-RBI single to stretch the lead to 11-5 at the end of the sixth.

In the seventh, Fitzgerald walked, Blake Hynum was hit by a pitch and Ferrington singled to load the bases with none out. Brown hit a sacrifice fly and Price drove in two runs with a single to make the score 13-5.

The bottom half of the Gators’ offense did most of the damage. For the night, the Nos. 5-9 hitters reached base 16 times in 20 chances, had eight hits and scored eight runs.

“This is about as balanced a lineup we have ever had here at Vicksburg,” Creel said. “It started with three straight singles when we were down 5-2. That is what we have been able to do, string hits together.”

While the offense peppered four New Albany pitchers, Fitzgerald kept the Bulldogs silent after the third inning.

Daniel Tunnell homered in the first and the Bulldogs took a 2-0 lead. They scored two more in the second and a single run in the third. Fitzgerald scattered three hits over the final four innings to secure the complete-game win. He struck out nine and New Albany stranded four runners in scoring position over the final four innings.

“I knew I had to step it up and that my offense would come through eventually and score runs and that’s what we did,” the lefty Fitzgerald said.

Prentiss led Vicksburg with three hits, while Price, Cooksey, Woodson and Brown each had two. Brown hit a run-scoring single in the second inning to tie the game at two before New Albany added two runs.

The Gators also scored twice in the fourth after Woodson, Fitzgerald and Blake Hynum hit back-to-back-to-back singles to spark the inning.

Drew Dodds, who pitched the first five innings for the Bulldogs, had two hits along with Foster with a pair.