PURVIS, MS (WDAM) - For the first three innings Thursday night, Purvis High School appeared to be sailing smoothly along on its home turf where it hadn't lost a baseball game all season.
The Tornadoes had cracked out four, crisp base hits against unbeaten East Central High School starting pitcher Brad Cumbest to take a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, giving unbeaten Purvis starting pitcher Jessie Johnson a seemingly comfortable cushion.
And then the Hornets started sending baseballs sailing over the fence.
Avery White's grand slam capped a five-run fourth inning to give East Central the lead for good, and the Hornets added three more runs on three more home runs on their way to an 8-6 victory in the opening game of Class 4A South State baseball playoffs semifinals.
"With that caliber pitcher you have on the mound, and you go down 3-0 in the bottom of the first, that's scary," East Central coach Bo Long said. "But when White got the big home run in the big five-run inning, it was like a thousand pounds was lifted off you."
Purvis (23-5) went from up three runs to trailing 5-3 and then after back-to-back solo shots by Dawson Hall and Branson Davis with two outs in the fifth inning, the Tornadoes down four scores going .
But Dakota Lee brought the Purvis crowd back to life when he crushed a three-run home run just left of the center-field wall to pull the Tornadoes back in the game, down just 7-6 after five innings.
That was as close as Purvis would get. The Hornets (23-4) got a little more breathing room when Louis Morgan led off the seventh inning with another blast just left of the center-field wall to give the Hornets a two-run edge.
The Tornadoes got a man on with one out in the bottom of the seventh, but the game ended when Purvis was called for runner's interference at second base as East Central tried to turn a double play.
"It was (an odd game)," Purvis coach Tony Farlow said. "Anytime you give up four home runs, including a grand slam and still have a chance to win … But, you know, you just have to give East Central credit. They just hit the long ball (Thursday) night."
East Central had eight hits in the game. Four of those left the park and accounted for seven of the Hornets' eight runs.
"We've hit more home runs as a team than we ever have, but we play in a big, dead park, so we don't rely on them," Long said. "We were very fortunate, that's for sure."
Trenton Flatt and Lee opened the game with singles off Cumbest (10-0). After a strike out, Casey Burge singled the first run and Parker Sharff's bunt to the right side of the mound brought home the second. Mason Kendrick's two-out single into shallow right-center gave the Tornadoes a 3-0 lead.
Johnson (8-1) had allowed just two baserunners over the first three innings on a single by White and a walk while striking out four.
But in the fourth inning, Johnson walked Cumbest and Hall and Davis' sharp grounder was misplayed to load the bases. Morgan hit a high fly to deep center that was lost in the lights, dropping for a single that scored Cumbest, and White unloaded a long fly over the wall in the left-center that unloaded the bases.
"We had that five-run inning where we walk two in a row, then we make the error, and then lose the ball in the lights, so you've really got a chance to get out of that inning with (a lot less damage)," Farlow said. "But that's baseball, and it didn't go our way (Thursday) night.
"The good thing is we have another chance (Friday) to see what we can do."
Game two of the best-of-three series is set for 7 p.m. Friday in Pascagoula. Hall (8-2) will get the pitching call for East Central while the Tornadoes will turn to Lee (7-1) on the mound.
Long said he expects the Tornadoes' best shot.
"This time of the year, everybody who's left, they feel like they're supposed to win," Long said. "So, there're no easy ones. There're no easy innings, there're no easy games.
"That's a good ballclub. They are every bit as good as everybody says they are and I do not want to come back here for a game three, I promise."
Purvis finished with 10 hits. Lee hit his fourth home run of the season and an RBI-single, Burge had a double and single and Johnson hit two singles. Kendrick, Flatt, Nathan Lott and Keyshawn Bolar had a single apiece.
White hit his second home run of the season to go with a single, while Morgan drove in a pair of runs with his second homer of the year and a single. Hall's homer was his third of the season, while Davis hit his second. Blake Duval and Trenton Baldock each hit singles.
Cumbest went five innings, allowing six runs on nine hits, while striking out one and walking two. Davis pitched the final two innings to pick up his second save of the season, allowing one hit and striking out two .
Johnson went 4 2/3 innings for Purvis. He allowed seven runs on five hits, walked four and struck out five.