East Central sweeps VHS for Class 4A crown|[05/18/08]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 18, 2008

Hornet bats stay hot in Game 2 of series

PEARL — The Class 4A state baseball championship for 2008 belongs to East Central and there wasn’t much Vicksburg could do about it.

The Hornets (28-9) completed an impressive two-game sweep of the Gators with a 16-6 rout in six innings Saturday afternoon at Trustmark Park. It was the second straight 10-run-rule victory for East Central in the 4A finals and it was the Hornets’ ninth straight playoff victory to close out the season.

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The loss ended Vicksburg’s best season in high school baseball at 28-10 and the school’s first trip to the state championship series.

“While today was pretty disappointing, you just have to commend East Central for playing outstanding in the two games here,” Vicksburg coach Jamie Creel said. “You kind of got the feeling it was their time because we hit a line drive off the pitcher’s foot and it goes right to the third baseman, who then makes a bare-handed grab and throw to get the out. That could’ve been a big inning for us.”

The play turned by East Central third baseman Matt Linton prevented the Gators from tying the game at 3 in the bottom of the fourth inning.

“Everything just seemed to go our way,” said East Central pitcher Trey Porter, who had four hits to support his mound effort. “I know my toe is sore from that ball hitting it but Matt made a great play. Everything just clicked for us.”

Then it was East Central’s turn for a big inning as they buried the Gators with an eight-run, fifth inning. Gator starter Andrew Brown had pitched well through four innings to keep his team within a run.

The Hornet fifth started with Andrew Evans lining a fly ball into shallow right field. For the second time in the game and the fourth time in the series the Gators’ Brian Fitzgerald could not come up with the catch. Evans raced safely to second after the dropped ball.

Creel decided to take Brown out and bring in shortstop Ryan Ferrington and Porter greeted Ferrington with a double down the left-field line to score Evans for a 4-2 lead. Phillip Byrd was then intentionally walked. Justin Parker also walked on a 3-2 pitch. With the bases-loaded, Ferrington walked Taylor Bonifacio on four straight pitches. He then hit Linton to bring in Byrd for a 6-2 Hornet lead. That was all for Ferrington and Creel brought in Fitzgerald, the Gators’ No. 2 starter.

Pinch-hitter Kyle McMellon made that move work for East Central by delivering a bases-clearing double to the left-field corner to up the lead to 9-2. Another walk, two fielder’s choices and a second hit in the inning by Porter handed him and the Hornets an 11-2 cushion.

VHS responded by putting together its best rally of the series with four runs in the bottom of the fifth to get back into the game, at least for an inning. Delmon Robinson walked and then reached second on the first East Central error of the series on a grounder by Stanton Price. Trey Prentiss followed a triple to left center to score both Robinson and Price to make it 11-4. Kurt Cooksey then doubled to score Prentiss. That hit knocked Porter out of the game.

Hornet reliever Ryan Hamilton gave up a hit to Bowen Woodson, but then traded three outs outs for a run to leave the fifth with East Central ahead 11-6.

The Hornet bats then went back to work against Fitzgerald. Six straight hits, all with two outs, brought in another five runs as East Central went up 16-6.

“They were just really good about hitting the ball the other way,” Price said.

“They swung the bats really well,” added Brown, who took the loss despite allowing two earned runs in four innings. He gave up just four of the Hornets’ 13 hits.

Ferrington did not get an out and had three walks and a hit batter.

“We should’ve gotten out of the first without a run and maybe again in the fifth if we can make a catch,” Creel said. The Gators finished with five errors in Game 2 and had nine in the series.

For the second straight game just about every one of the Hornets had a hit or a run scored. Porter’s four hits led the way. He also scored three times, as did Caleb Dickerson and Evans. Byrd and Bonifacio had two hits each.

Prentiss led Vicksburg with two hits and two RBIs. His first hit was infield single that set up the Gators first run by moving Price to third. Cooksey then brought him in on a sac fly to make it 2-1.

The Gators then tied the score for the only time in the series with a run in the second inning. Blake Hynum doubled and then scored on Ferrington’s fly out to left.

Hornets’ hustle difference in two-game series

By Ernest Bowker

PEARL — Throughout his nine-year tenure at Vicksburg High, coach Jamie Creel has preached about the little things.

Taking the extra base. Playing sound defense. Being aware of the situation and doing what it takes to win baseball games. For 36 games this season, the Gators did all of those things and enjoyed unprecedented success. In their last two games, they did not.

East Central capped a one-sided sweep of the Gators in the Class 4A championship series on Saturday with a 16-6 victory. Vicksburg caught a few bad breaks in Game 2, but those hardly determined the outcome of the series. East Central followed Vicksburg’s playbook by being aggressive on the basepaths, getting timely hits and sticking a dagger in the Gators’ hearts when they had the chance.

“The whole series seemed to be summed up by that play where they caught us napping and take third,” Vicksburg coach Jamie Creel said, referring to a sixth-inning play in which East Central’s Caleb Dickerson advanced from second to third while the Gators threw the ball back to the pitcher. “They were just a lot more alert than we were the last two games.”

Vicksburg’s troubles started at the plate. They managed only nine hits in the series, including five in the first nine innings. The lack of hitting led to a 13-1 loss in Game 1 and an 11-2 hole in the fifth inning of Game 2 before they were able to rally for four runs.

Even when the Gators did put a few things together, it didn’t seem to be their day. In the third inning Saturday, with speedy Delmon Robinson on first, Stanton Price crushed a ball to the wall in right field that would have been out of almost any high school park in the state. At Trustmark Park, built to big league specifications, it was hauled in by Taylor Bonifacio for an out.

The next batter, Trey Prentiss, hit a fly ball to left that was juggled by East Central’s Justin Parker before he caught it while laying on the ground, and the Hornets escaped the inning.

In the fourth, with a runner on third and East Central leading 3-2, the Gators’ Andrew Brown hit a two-out grounder back up the middle. It caromed off the foot of pitcher Trey Porter and landed in the bare right hand of third baseman Matt Linton, who fired to first to get a sliding Brown for the final out.

East Central then scored eight runs in the top of the fifth to blow the game open.

“I knew it wasn’t our day when we hit a line drive off the guy’s foot and he barehands it and gets us out,” Creel said. “They made the little plays, they made the big plays, they did everything they needed to do to win.”

Shoddy defense also played a big part in the Gators’ demise. After committing four errors in Game 1, they made five more in Game 2. East Central benefited to the tune of nine unearned runs in the series, out of a total of 29 that it scored.

In the decisive fifth inning on Saturday, a dropped fly ball started the inning.

Two wild pitches and five walks didn’t help matters, and neither did a repeat of a mental error from Game 1. Dickerson reached on a fielder’s choice, went to second on another fielder’s choice, and then stole third when the Gators failed to pay attention in between batters. Dickerson did the same thing in the first inning of Game 1, and scored both times.

“It’s a game-changer if I can catch them off their toes. I’m going to take advantage of it,” said Dickerson, who went 5-for-9 with five RBIs and seven runs scored in the series. “We took advantage of all their mistakes when they weren’t on their toes.”

East Central also got plenty of timely hits. After Vicksburg scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth to cut it to 11-6, the Hornets answered with six straight two-out hits and five runs in the sixth to make it 16-6.

The powerful East Central offense produced 25 hits in the series’ 10 innings — they didn’t have to bat in the fifth inning of Game 1 — and were only retired in order once. They batted around three times, including twice in Game 2, and scored in all but two innings.

Vicksburg had come back from mistake-filled outings before. They started the season 5-5 but won their division.

They committed nine errors in Game 1 of a second-round series against Oxford, then won the next two games on the road. But against a team that never let up, kept the pressure on, and did all of the little things right, it was finally too much to overcome.

“We never did make that many errors in a series all season. But that’s the way baseball goes. You’re going to have some good days and some bad days,” said Vicksburg left fielder Trey Prentiss, who was 2-for-4 with a triple and two RBIs in Game 2.

“They were just doing the little things to help them win. We were doing the little things sometimes, and at points we weren’t.”