Saltillo sweeps Gators in 5A baseball playoffs

Published 12:54 am Sunday, April 24, 2016

Through four innings Saturday, the Vicksburg Gators were giving Saltillo all it could handle.

After five, they were behind but still in the game.

After seven, it looked like just another blowout loss, and all of their effort went for naught.

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Saltillo snapped a scoreless tie by scoring four runs in the top of the fifth inning, then put 10 more on the board in the seventh to beat Vicksburg 14-0 in Game 2 of their MHSAA Class 5A baseball playoff series.

Saltillo (14-9) swept the best-of-three series and advanced to face Grenada in the second round.

“It’s 0-0 going into the fifth and it winds up being 14-0. It’s frustrating, just to have a chance to be in the game at the end and just lose,” Vicksburg coach Derrick DeWald said. “Give (Saltillo) credit. We’d play back and they’d hit it in front of us, and then we’d play up and they’d hit it over our heads. They’re a solid club one through nine.”

Vicksburg finished its season with a 4-22 record. It was shut out in 10 of its 21 losses while struggling with a young and inexperienced squad. Thirteen of the 19 players on the roster have played competitive baseball for four years or less.

The young roster and some competitive games late in the season gave DeWald hope that better days are ahead.

“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back, and we made tremendous strides from the beginning of this year to the end of this year. We’ve just got to continue to make those strides. It’s going to start in the offseason and this summer when we hit the weights,” DeWald said. “We’ve got a few key places that we’ve got to fill in next year, but the pieces are there to start turning that corner.”

The Gators lost Game 1 by a 12-2 score on Friday, but seemed to bounce back nicely on their home turf of Bazinsky Field.

Starting pitcher Latonio Brown, who threw a no-hitter in his previous start against Lanier, had another no-hitter through four innings on Saturday. Ty Hill broke it up with a one-out double in the fifth, and that started the Gators’ downfall.

Hill was safe at third on a bunt play, then tried to score on a sharp grounder to third by Drake McCarter. Vicksburg’s Marshall Banks fielded it cleanly and fired home, but catcher Branden Humphrey couldn’t hang on to the ball.

Hill slid in headfirst with the first run of the game, and the next batter Dylan Hitchcock delivered a two-run triple to right field. Hitchcock scored on a passed ball as Saltillo took a 4-0 lead after nearly running itself out of the inning.

“I think the turning point of the game was when the score was 0-0, ball hit to third, catcher drops it and they score there,” DeWald said. “He’s out, and that’s a momentum-changer big time. The ball is there and we just didn’t make the play. That changed the whole complexion of the game.”

Brown got out of the inning and pitched a scoreless sixth, but started to tire in the seventh. Saltillo’s first five batters reached base — including one on an error on a potential double play ball and another on a lost fly ball in the sun — before Brown was pulled.

“It was the same old thing like it’s been. One error leads to another,” Brown said.

Brown wound up being charged with nine runs, only four of which were earned, in six-plus innings. He walked two batters and struck out five.

“He did a tremendous job. He pitched his butt off. I just hate that we couldn’t give him a victory today and bring it back to Saltillo on Monday,” DeWald said.

Once Brown was out of the game, Saltillo feasted on his replacement Chris Farrish. The Tigers greeted Farrish with four consecutive extra base hits to extend the lead to 12-0.

Houston Parker hit a two-run triple, and Hill and Chase Williams had back-to-back RBI doubles. McCarter also doubled and scored a run.

Hill finished the game 2-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI and two runs scored. Hitchcock’s two-run triple in the fifth inning was his only hit of the game, but he drove in three runs and scored twice.

Gage Ederington was 2-for-3 for Vicksburg, which only had four hits off of Saltillo pitcher Hayden Palmer. Palmer pitched a complete game, struck out eight and walked one.

The Gators’ best chance to score came in the third inning, when an infield hit by Ederington and two hit batters loaded the bases with two outs. Palmer got Farrish to hit a grounder up the middle that was easily fielded by shortstop Braden Ellis and turned into a force at second for the final out.

“We gave them all we could handle today, and we just couldn’t get the timely hits we needed when we had runners in scoring position,” DeWald said. “We’ve struggled to score runs all year long, and it just came back to bite us in the rear end today.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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