Olive Branch edges Gators to sweep first-round series

Published 11:03 pm Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Vicksburg Gators closed out another season, and an era, on Saturday.

Joseph Belvin drove in the game’s only run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning, and Matthew Koch had 10 strikeouts while throwing a two-hit shutout as Olive Branch beat Vicksburg 1-0 in Game 2 of their MHSAA Class 5A baseball playoff series at Bazinsky Field.

Olive Branch (13-16) swept the series and advanced to face Grenada in the second round.
Vicksburg (6-19) headed into the offseason with its eighth consecutive loss in a playoff series — it has not advanced beyond the first round since reaching the Class 4A championship series in 2008 — but did regain some pride after getting blown out 10-0 in Game 1 on Friday.

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“I knew what we were going to have on the mound with Haden Luke, and he was ready. I was hoping we could scratch a few runs. Give their pitcher credit. He matched him inning for inning, pitch for pitch,” Vicksburg coach Derrick DeWald said. “I’m very proud of my guys. We came back after last night and competed hard, and that’s all I can ever ask for. I tell them all the time, if you do the things that we ask you to you’ll have a chance to be in the game at the very end. You can’t guarantee wins at this level, but you can ask them to compete at the highest level possible.”

Saturday’s game was the last for DeWald as Vicksburg’s coach. He announced earlier this month that he was stepping down at the end of the season after four years in the job. He finished with a 24-77 record with the Gators, who have not finished above .500 since 2012.

“When I first got here, I had a vision. Unfortunately, one of the parts of the vision that I had just didn’t come true. That lies on me. But I’m thankful for the opportunity. I’ve learned a lot. If I ever become a head coach again, I’ll hopefully know what to do and what not to do to be successful,” DeWald said. “I’ve been blessed to work here. I worked my butt off, and somebody’s hopefully going to come in here and inherit the program and take it in a direction I wasn’t able to take it to. But I’m thankful for the administration for giving me that opportunity.”

Saturday’s loss was the Gators’ ninth in a row in playoff games — their last win was in Game 2 of a 2014 series against Saltillo — but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.
Luke pitched a complete game, allowing only one run on five hits while striking out three batters and walking none. He only needed 83 pitches to get through it, and only misstepped one time.

Gavin Mink led off the top of the sixth inning with a single for Olive Branch, then stole second and was bunted to third. Luke hit the next batter, and Belvin followed with a fly ball to center field that was deep enough to score Mink and put the Conquistadors on top 1-0.

“They earned that one. We didn’t give it to them. As bad as a 1-0 loss hurts, it would have hurt even more if we’d have gave it to them,” DeWald said.

Vicksburg had several chances to tie it. It left a runner on in the sixth inning, and then got the tying run into scoring position in the seventh as Branden Humphrey walked and stole second with two outs.

Koch, however, got Malik Barnes to chase strike three on a curveball in the dirt. The ball momentarily got away from the catcher, but he recovered and threw to first in plenty of time for the final out as Humphrey was streaking around third.

“We had chances throughout. We had a runner at second a couple of times and couldn’t get him over or couldn’t get him in,” DeWald said. “We had chances just like they did. They just happened to cash in. They were one pitch, one at-bat better tonight.”

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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