Petal High School returned home Saturday seeking to extend its Class 6A baseball playoff series with the Gulfport High School to a third game.
Instead, the Panthers’ hopes all but evaporated after a first-inning power display by the Admirals.
Castor Lee and Gabe Lacy smacked back-to-back home runs to put Gulfport ahead 3-0, and the Admirals went on to a 7-1 victory at Panther Field.
“Wind’s blowing out strong, and they came out and got those two home runs in the first inning and that got us behind right off the bat,” Petal coach Larry Watkins said. “They’ve got a good team. They pitched well, played good defense and they swung the bats (well).”
Coupled with a 4-2 loss Friday night at Gulfport, Petal (15-13) saw its season come to an end.
“It was a tough season, and we fought hard to have a winning season,” Watkins said. “We played a tough schedule and everybody seemed to bring their best game against us.
“We came into the year with one pitcher with varsity experience, and he was hurt most of the year, so there were some younger guys who got some great experience, and we’re looking forward to going into a (new) year with some kids who have some experience. We think that should really help us.”
With the sweep of the best-of-three series, the Admirals (28-3) move on to a third-round series with the Ocean Springs High School-Brandon High School winner.
Gulfport coach Jamie McMahon said the first inning set the tone for his team and the game.
"We’ve done that at times, to get going, and it helps us,” McMahon said. “We do swing the bat pretty good, and when we get it going, offensively, we can hit the ball out of the park, one through eight (in the batting order)."
“(Friday night), it took us a minute to get some runs, but (Saturday), we got going early.”
After center fielder Dylan Brown doubled to lead off the game against Tyler Dobson (4-4), second baseman Castor Lee followed with a blast over the left-field fence for a 2-0 lead. When the next batter, shortstop Gabe Lacy, swatted a solo homer to nearly the same spot, the Admirals were sailing.
Gulfport made it 4-0 in the second inning. Brown walked and then scored from first on Lee’s double into the left-field corner.
The Admirals tacked on three more runs in the fourth inning off Nicholas Russell, with catcher Blake Johnson cracking a two-run double to left field and pitcher Patrick Nelms an RBI-single up the middle.
The Panthers got to Nelms in the bottom of the inning for its lone run. Left fielder/pitcher Braxton Miller singled, went to second on shortstop Zach Parks’ single and scored on a single by designated hitter Taylor Gatwood.
But that was it for the Panthers, as Nelms (8-1) scattered six hits over seven innings, walking two and striking out one.
“He threw like 70 pitches in seven innings, and if you can get that out of one your starters, you’re in good shape,” McMahon said of Nelms, younger brother of University of Southern Mississippi freshman pitcher, Alex Nelms. “He located it down, and with the wind blowing out everyone was trying to get it out of here."
“So, we got some quick innings, some pop-ups, and that gave him a chance to finish that game.”
The Admirals also benefitted from three double plays that squelched embryonic Petal opportunities in the first, third and sixth innings.
“Getting behind early was tough on us, but I was proud the way we kept on playing,” Watkins said. “We hit some balls hard, but they just didn’t fall for us.”
Miller led Petal with a double and single, while Gatwood, Russell, Parks and Tanner Estill hit a single each.
Lee led Gulfport with a home run and two doubles, driving in three runs. Lacy had a home run, while Brown and Johnson each hit doubles, and Nelms had two singles.