Warren Central is one win away from state championship series berth after beating Center Hill

Published 11:13 pm Friday, May 10, 2024

Warren Central’s baseball team took a bus to Center Hill on Friday, but flew home on Cloud Nine.

Conner Watkins and Trace Hood both doubled in two runs during a big second-inning rally, and Watkins allowed one earned run in a complete game as Warren Central beat Center Hill 7-3 in Game 1 of the MHSAA Class 6A North State championship series.

The victory moved Warren Central (18-11) within one win of its first trip to the state finals since 2001. It can clinch it by beating Center Hill (21-11) again on Saturday at Viking Field in Vicksburg. The game begins at 7 p.m.

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Warren Central is in the state semifinals for the first time since 2004, and won for the 11th time in 12 games. It let an early 2-0 lead slip away Friday, as Center Hill scored three times in the bottom of the first inning, but quickly surged back in front to stay.

A walk, a single and Watkins’ one-out double put the Vikings back in front 4-3. Two more walks set the table for Hayes Loper, who hit an RBI single, and Hood who followed with his two-run double to make it 7-3.

Warren Central missed a few chances to pad the lead — it left runners on base in three of the last four innings and had a runner thrown out stealing to end the other — but Watkins was outstanding on the mound after a shaky first inning.

Center Hill’s Houston Green hit a two-run home run to tie the score 2-2, and then a walk and a single set up a sacrifice fly by Cooper McCool that gave the Mustangs the lead.

Starting with McCool’s fly out, Watkins retired 10 batters in a row to settle in. He issued back-to-back two-out walks in the fourth inning, then set down the next nine batters.

Center Hill’s only hit after the first inning was a two-out single by Whitman Key in the bottom of the seventh. Watkins walked the next batter, then got Ayden Rodgers to fly out to end the game.

Watkins allowed a total of three hits and four walks, and struck out four. He also went 1-for-4 with two RBIs at the plate.

Cade Fairley walked three times and scored twice, and Hayes Loper was 2-for-4 with a double and three RBIs. Warren Central’s batters drew nine walks in the game.