STRINGER, MS (WDAM) - Stringer High School started Monday's rubber match with a bang against Sacred Heart High School in the rubber match of their Class 1A baseball playoff series.
Then, the Red Devils had to hang on for dear life down the stretch.
Cayleb Dyess led off the game with a blast over the Maroon Monster in left field to ignite a two-run first inning and the Red Devils (17-11) built the lead to 5-0 after three innings.
But the Crusaders (10-12) declined to go away.
Sacred Heart scored twice in the sixth inning, then loaded the bases in the top of the seventh before first baseman Brennen Green squeezed a pop up in foul territory a few steps behind the bag to secure the Red Devils' 5-2 victory.
After splitting the first two meetings of the best-of-three playoff series, Monday's win send Stringer into a third-round matchup with Hamilton High School (19-5-2). The first game is set for Thursday at Hamilton.
"I think I speak for them and myself, we're just so excited to be able to be playing another week," Stringer coach Wade Weathers said. "It's a tight-knit group, these kids, and I'm glad they get to keep playing.
"We've got two seniors (Green and Griffin Cheatham) who have given their heart and soul to this program, and I'm just so excited for them to be able to keep playing. There're only four teams left in the South (State playoffs), and we're one of them. We're super-excited about that."
Sacred Heart, which came into the season aching after the death of the program's founder, Larry Mixon, a day before the start of practice, fought until the final out.
"I think, definitely, they wanted to make Coach Mixon proud," Sacred Heart coach Drew Dewease said. "I think if you look at it, their identity is exactly like Larry Mixon, resilient, gritty and selfless."
Stringer started quick.
Dyess' blast gave the Red Devils a 1-0 lead, and after Green walked and moved to second base on a flyout, Jackson Parker singled to put Stringer up 2-0.
"It's always good to score first and we're big on that here," Weathers said. "It gives you a really good shot to win ballgames."
The Red Devils bumped the lead to 5-0 off Crusaders starter Luke Hicks (0-1) in a rally that included three walks, a hit batsman and an error. The lone hit was an infield fly by Dyess with two outs that dropped in no man's land for an RBI-infield single.
"Slow starts, that's kind of been our Achilles' heel all season," Dewease said.
Red Devils starter Andrew Nix had much to do with that. Nix (2-2) allowed just three singles through five scoreless innings.
"He pitched his tail off," Weathers said. "He throws three pitches for strikes. He doesn't throw really hard, but he pitches. He gives us a chance to win and that's all we ask out of him."
The Crusaders finally got to Nix in the sixth inning for two runs on three hits and a walk, including run-scoring singles by Levi Odom and Nick Gallardo.
Hicks retired nine of the final 10 Red Devils he faced, and the Crusaders mounted a threat in the seventh inning off reliever Jake Parker.
Ewan Robinson walked, and after Parker got a strikeout, Nathan Gerald forced Robinson at second base on a grounder to shortstop. But Luke Odom and Griffin Wiggins both coaxed two-out walks off Parker to load the bases and bring the potential go-ahead run to the plate.
But Parker got the final popup to earn his first save of the season and send the Red Devils into the next round and end the Crusaders' season.
"Tough group of kids," Dewease said. "They've been resilient from the first pitch to the last pitch and it just didn't go our way (Monday), and that's baseball."
Wiggins and Hicks had two singles apiece for Sacred Heart, with Robinson and Gallardo adding singles.
Dyess finished with a home run and single and drove in two runs. Jackson Parker, Cheatham and Green each had singles.