Stark’s homers torpedo Gators

Published 1:46 pm Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Vicksburg Gators had an answer for everything Northwest Rankin threw at them Monday night.

Well, almost everything.

Mississippi State signee Taylor Stark hit three home runs and finished 5-for-5 with five RBIs and four runs scored to lead Northwest Rankin to a wild 13-9 win over the Gators at Bazinsky Field.

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Stark has had four two-homer games in his career but never a three-homer game. He led the Cougars with six home runs last season, but had hit only two in 2010 before Monday’s outburst.

“He hit a fastball, a curveball and a changeup out. He had a heck of a night,” Vicksburg coach Jamie Creel said. “Nothing we did seemed to matter. He’s just a great player.”

Stark hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning, a solo shot in the sixth and another two-run homer in the seventh. His first two home runs gave Northwest the lead back after Vicksburg had rallied from three and four runs down to take the lead and then tie it. His last, a high-arcing moonshot to left-center field, made it 13-9 and buried the Gators.

“It was just a great feeling,” Stark said. “Three-two count, I knew he was going to throw a fastball and I got it.”

Stark’s big performance was just one of many in a wild back-and-forth game.

Cody Livingston also hit a three-run homer for the Cougars (15-3). The Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters in Northwest Rankin’s order — Caleb Dugas, Stark and Brennon Gibson — went 13-for-15 with seven RBIs and 10 runs scored.

The teams combined to score 18 runs in the last 31⁄2 innings. Vicksburg took the lead after trailing 3-1, tied it after Northwest Rankin scored five runs in the fifth inning to go up 8-4, then pulled within a run at 10-9 in the bottom of the sixth.

“This one is probably the hardest loss this season. We swung it real good but let Stark beat us,” said VHS center fielder Lamar Anthony, who doubled and scored two runs. “We’re just going to have to keep battling. If you can say it’s a positive, the way we swung the bats was good.”

Clyde Kendrick went 2-for-3 with a triple and two RBIs for Vicksburg (11-10), Cody Waddell drove in two runs with a pair of singles, and Keaton Jones was 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Although Creel was happy with his team’s fight and some of the individual performances, he said small mistakes throughout the game ultimately proved costly.

One of those came in the seventh inning. Northwest Rankin’s Garrett McBeth led off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Dugas followed with a single to left, and Kendrick’s throw skipped past the catcher — not a major error by itself, but it was compounded when pitcher Cameron Cooksey was slow to back up the play. Dugas ultimately ended up at third, forcing the Gators to pitch to Stark instead of intentionally walking him.

“We’re progressing. But you’re really not progressing until you get over that hump. We had a chance to beat a top-five team and made a few mistakes,” Creel said. “Tonight proves we can stay in the game with anybody. I was proud of the way we kept bouncing back. It shows character.”