JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - As the final out settled into Walker Thompson's glove in deep in center field Thursday night, a roar erupted behind the West Jones High School dugout as a herd of Mustangs shot onto the diamond in celebration.
For the first time in six years, Region 5-5A had a new champion.
Kris Riley did not allow a hit through six innings and a hit-and-run gamble set up the only run of the game as West Jones nipped South Jones High School 1-0 at jam-packed Braves Field.
Hayden Bryan's grounder to the right side scored Riley from third base in the fifth inning as the cross-county rivals wrestled through their third, one-run decision of the season.
"All our games this year have been as good a baseball as you could find," first-year West Jones coach Trey Sutton said. "(South Jones) is a great baseball team and it was two teams battling it out for a district championship.
"We were able to scratch one run across and that ended up being the difference."
With the win, West Jones (17-5, 8-1 Region 5-5A) clinched the district crown, and earned a bye in the first-round of the Class 5A playoffs that start next weekend.
South Jones finished district runner-up, with Wayne County High School third.
The Braves (17-9, 7-2), which had won 5-5A the past five years, will host Jackson Provine High School in a best-of-three series starting April 21.
"(Thursday night ), definitely a playoff atmosphere," South Jones coach Jordan Rogers said. "They made one or two more pitches, one or two more plays than we did.
"You've got to tip your cap to Trey and them, but we're excited. We're in the playoffs and we're home."
With the stands overflowing and spectators lining the fences down both lines, the left-hander Riley (4-2) and South Jones right-hander Max Sharp (6-2) squared off in a duel.
Sharp went the distance, scattering five singles over seven innings, walking just one while striking out six. The Mustangs also had three other baserunners reach on errors.
But Sharp minimized the damage throughout the game, coaxing groundballs in first, fourth and sixth frames that started inning-ending double plays for the Braves.
The Mustangs struck for the game's only run in the fifth inning, when Riley singled with one out. With Thompson at the plate, Sutton called for the hit-and-run, and with Riley running with the pitch, Thompson grounded a single to the right of the second base bag, sending Thompson to third.
Bryan followed with a grounder to second, brining home Riley with what proved to be the game-winner.
"Sharp was dominating us," Sutton said. "We got a runner on, and I didn't feel like he was a runner I could steal a base with, so we put some motion in play to see what would happen, and Walker did a great job of getting inside the ball.
"That was exhibit 'A' of how you do it. He didn't hit it hard, but he hit it where the (second baseman Tyler Holliman) had vacated, and that proved to be the difference."
Riley did not allow a hit until in the seventh, while walking four, hitting a batter and striking out seven. Two more South Jones batters reached on errors.
Four of his strikeouts ended innings with South Jones runners in scoring position, including the fifth inning, when left fielder Chad Moses walked, moved to second base on a wild pitch and was sacrificed to third on a bunt with one out.
But Riley got Ryne Sasser to line out to Thompson is shallow center field, and then struck out Will Mitchell to end the threat.
In the seventh, pinch-hitter Bryson Sumrall sent a single up the middle with one out, and Sutton turned to third baseman Dustin Dickerson, who got Sasser on a popup and Mitchell on the fly out to center.
Riley led West Jones with two singles, while Dickerson, Thompson and first baseman Trey DeSantis had a single each.
Both teams have regular-season games left. West Jones will take on Harrison Central Saturday and Greene County Monday, with South Jones hosting Enterprise Tuesday.