HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Heading into the bottom of the fifth inning at Harrington Park, Hattiesburg High School found itself trailing South Jones High School 5-2 in the deciding game of their Class 5A baseball playoff series.
Fifteen batters, nine pitching changes and 12 runs later, the Tigers found themselves poised to pocket the best-of-three series, and did so, an inning later, claiming a 15-5 victory over the Braves.
Jaden Richardson's sacrifice fly in the sixth inning scored Jamarcus Lang with the walk-off run that brought the 10-run "mercy rule" into play and ended the game.
"It was a strange series, and that was not expected," HHS coach Joe Hartfield said of the dramatic turn of events. "I was just hoping that we would come back and tie it up and eventually get the lead.
"But it was a really strange game."
Strange or not, the victory forwarded the Tigers (23-9) into the third round of the Class 5A playoffs, where Hattiesburg will take on West Harrison High School (20-9) beginning Thursday.
The Hurricanes defeated Wayne County High School 3-2 Monday to win the rubber match of their series.
"They're a team that we are not real familiar with," Hartfield said. "We haven't played them, ever. We've heard about how good they are. They've been a real good team the past two years, at least.
"I know that they have good pitching and are well-coached, so we're going to have to buckle up and get ready for another tough opponent."
The Tigers had all they could handle with South Jones, splitting the first two games of the series, with each team winning on its home diamond. HHS took a 5-2 win Friday before the Braves bounced back with a 10-1 Saturday in Ellisville.
Monday night, the momentum remained in South Jones' dugout. HHS starter Joe Gray had all kinds of issues locating his pitches, and before Kameron Wells entered to get the final out of the first inning, the Braves held a 4-0 lead.
McCoy Walters, who finished with three singles in the game, had the lone hit in the first that saw South Jones take advantage of four walks, three wild pitches, two hit batsmen and a sacrifice fly to jump out to the quick lead.
But South Jones coach Jordan Rogers said he would have liked to have seen the Braves tack on a few more runs.
"We missed some opportunities," Rogers said of a first inning that ended with the bases loaded and a fifth inning that left a man stranded at second. "We had some chances to extend it, and with a team of their caliber, you have to extend it when you get a chance, because they're going to score.
"Offensively, you're not going to keep them from the scoring, they're so explosive."
With Wells shutting down the Braves over the next three innings, HHS broke through in the third inning for two runs. Destin Holimon drove in the first when he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Dexter Jordan brought in the second with a sacrifice fly.
South Jones added a run in the top of the fifth inning when Walters singled, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on a two-out double by Tyler Ducksworth.
That ended Wells day, and Noah Thornton (3-0) moved from catching behind the plate to the mound to record the third out.
In the bottom of the inning, Richardson led off with a single off Braves reliever Brandon Cox and scored on a double by Holiman to cut the lead to 5-3.
Cox was lifted in favor of John Mitchell (0-3), who had started the game, and Gray, who had moved to center field after being relieved by Wells, singled to score Holimon and move Hattiesburg within 5-4.
Dexter Jordan's RBI-double tied the game and drove Mitchell from the mound for a second time. Ducksworth came in, and walked Thornton before getting A.J. Stinson to fly out for the first out of the inning.
Hartfield then sent Lang up to pinch hit, and he lined a single through the right side to put the Tigers ahead 6-5.
"We had a talk right before (his at-bat), and we ran a hit-and-run there, and he got on top it, and drove it through the infield," Hartfield said. "That was a really big hit, one of the turning points, I think."
Perhaps, because the floodgates opened, as the Tigers scored eight more runs. Stinson had a two-run single and Quanell Curry and Holimon hit run-scoring singles. Richardson and Thornton forced in runs with bases-loaded walks, Gray smoked a sacrifice fly to left and the final run scored on the back end of a double steal.
Thornton allowed a Ryne Sasser single in the sixth with two outs before getting Will Mitchell to line out to end the inning and Hattiesburg wrapped up the night when Lang singled, went to third on Curry's double and scored on Richardson's sacrifice fly.
Hartfield said the series with the Braves should help prepare the Tigers for what lies ahead.
"When we saw we were matched up with South Jones, they were the last team we wanted to play," Hartfield said. "Just the mentality they play with, they come at you. They're well-coached and they just play so hard.
"So, for us to get over this hump, I think we can really build on it."
Rogers said it was tough to say goodbye to a senior class that he and his coaches and guided since seventh grade.
"This is the first time this group has not been a one-seed, and that was a different adventure there," Rogers said. "But I'm proud of the way they responded and took a great program to a three-game set.
"This is my first group to come through. This was our first bunch that we started coaching up there six years ago and they'll hold a special place in this program and in our heart because they are the definition of what you want your players to be like as a coach."