PETAL, MS (WDAM) - Given the long baseball rivalry between Oak Grove and Petal high schools, one would expect that nothing is going to come easy when the cross-county rivals meet on the diamond.
Take Friday night.
The Warriors rolled out to a six-run lead after just two innings, but the Panthers clawed back, stranding the game-tying run on second base in the seventh inning before falling 6-5 in Region 5-6A play.
"We're very fortunate to come out with a win," Oak Grove coach Chris McCardle said.
And the Panthers were left shaking their heads.
Petal outhit Oak Grove 8-4, accepted eight walks from the Warriors and put three more runners on base via hit batsmen.
But the Panthers stranded 15 basesrunners, nine in scoring position. Petal left the bases loaded four times, including coming up empty in both the second and third innings after having the bases full with just one out.
"That's what broke our back," Petal coach Larry Watkins said. "We're going to have to do a better job hitting with men in scoring position.
"I don't feel like we gave it away, but we (missed) a lot of opportunities."
The result: Oak Grove (18-3, 7-1) swept the three-game series from the Panthers (10-9, 3-5) for a second, consecutive season and clinched the top spot in the region in the process.
The Warriors did so without the services of its top two pitchers, Drew Boyd and Kris Smith, and an offense that managed only one hit in the final five innings.
"The injury bug on the mound has got us where our top two guys can't go," McCardle said. "Boyd's probably done for the year and we hope to get Kris Smith back next week, but you don't know.
"That changes the dynamics of our pitching staff."
McCardle turned to Conner Ingram, who allowed one hit and three walks while striking out three in the first two innings as his teammates built a 6-0 lead.
Oak Grove sent eight to the plate in the first inning against Taylor Gatwood (2-3), scoring four runs on two hits, two walks and two hit batsmen.
The Warriors loaded the bases on Kris Jones' single followed by walks to Mack Pickering and Boyd. Kade Shannon drove in the first run with a fly ball to right field that also sent Pickering to third base.
Pickering scored on the back end of a double steal for a 2-0 lead and Scott McMurrian made it 4-0 with a two-run double into the right-field corner.
Hunter Dykes, who got the final out of the first inning, was nicked for two more Oak Grove runs in the second, with one scoring on a wild pitch and the other on Hayes Maples' grounder to the right side.
But Dykes dominated over the final five innings, allowing just one hit and three walks while striking out nine Warriors.
"He kept us in the game," Watkins said, "and we started to peck away with a few runs here and there."
The Panthers chased Ingram in the third inning, scoring three times on bases-loaded walks to Destin Hooks and Dykes and an RBI-single by Gatwood.
But with the bases loaded and one out, Ryan Blackburn (0-1) came to the mound and got an inning-ending double play.
"Ingram started out OK, and then had trouble throwing strikes," McCardle said. "I think it was the atmosphere of the game. Blackburn, it was the first time he was in a game like this, and the atmosphere got to him, too, a little bit, but he handled it better.
"He made some pitches when he had to, but there guy (Dykes) came in and shut us down."
With Oak Grove's offense stifled, Blackburn worked out of one jam after another.
He gave up a run in the fourth inning when Tanner Estill led off with a double, moved to third on a fly ball to right and scored on Zach Parks' sacrifice fly to pull the Panthers within 6-4.
Petal threatened in the fifth inning, loading the bases on an error and two walks with two outs, but Blackburn got a flyout to end the threat.
Petal made it 6-5 in the sixth, when Parks singled and eventually scored on a wild pitch. But with the bases loaded and two outs, Blackburn got a strikeout looking to end the inning.
Jacob Hall nearly tied the score in the seventh inning, when he just missed a home run off the top of the wall in left-center field, but he wound up stranded at second when Blackburn got a flyball and a groundout to end the game.
"Any other day besides (Friday night) being cold like that, the ball would have gone out," Watkins said of Hall's shot. "He hit it hard, but he still gave us a chance, man on second with one out, but it just didn't happen for us."
Hall had single and double for Petal, while Tyler Dobson hit two singles and Estill a double. Braxton Miller, Gatwood and Parks each had a single for the Panthers.
Jones singled twice and scored two runs for the Warriors, while McMurrian had a double and Brennen Roberts a single.