HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - One night after coming back from the dead in its Class 5A South State semifinal baseball series, Hattiesburg High School delivered the killing blow.
Senior Joe Gray pitched four innings of one-run ball and delivered two doubles and a single at the plate to help Hattiesburg take a 13-1 victory Saturday night at Smokie Harrington Park over South Jones High School in the third and deciding game of the best-of-three series.
The Tigers (22-10) will face West Jones High School in the South State finals. The best-of-three series starts Thursday in Soso.
West Jones (27-3) advanced by edging Pearl River Central High School 7-6 Saturday night in the deciding game of their South State semifinal series.
The Mustangs trailed the Blue Devils 3-0, then took a 4-3 lead with three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Pearl River went back ahead 6-4 with three runs in the top of the seventh, but West Jones put a three-spot in the bottom of the inning for the walk-off win.
The Mustangs only lost two games during the regular season, and one was to Hattiesburg 4-0 in a tourney at George County High School.
"They'll have home-field advantage and we'll have to go over there first," HHS coach Joe Hartfield said. "They've got a good ball team … (West Jones coach) Trey Sutton over there does a tremendous job. They're a really good program and we're going to have a difficult time. That's going to be a tough opponent."
For the better part of two hours Friday night, Hattiesburg's chances of advancing didn't appear too bright.
The Tigers, who had lost the opening game of the series 8-3 Thursday night, trailed the Braves 6-1 after four innings and were down three runs after six. But Hattiesburg rallied to tie the game and send it into extra innings, then scored four runs in the top of the ninth to hold South Jones 11-8 and force a third game.
"It looked iffy," said Gray, who drove in two runs and had courtesy runners who took his place on the basepaths score three times. "We had our backs up against it. But true winners know how to handle adversity and come through it no matter what.
"We had to keep our heads down, keep chipping away, and that's exactly what we did."
The Tigers left little in doubt Saturday. Hattiesburg started fast and never let up.
South Jones (18-12) threatened at the start. Tyson Sumrall opened the game with a single, went to second on bunt by Tyler Ducksworth and took third on a single by Ricky Boleware.
But Gray (6-0) got a double play grounder to get out of the inning.
In the bottom of the first, Jay Reedy was hit by a pitch and Gray ripped a double into the left-field corner off South Jones starter Reid Goleman (0-5) to put men on second and third. Dexter Jordan followed with a two-run single to center to put the Tigers ahead 2-0.
South Jones appeared to have cut their deficit in half in the second.
Andrew Howard singled and went to second with two outs when Nate Conliff walked. Mark Diers followed with what looked like a run-scoring single, but Hattiesburg appealed the play at third, arguing that Howard had missed the bag. The umpires agreed, the run was taken off the board and the inning was over.
And soon after, so was any real chance the Braves had to stay in the game.
Hattiesburg put up runs in the second and then added four more in the third to take a n 11-1 lead.
Caleb Tart led off the second with a two-strike triple into the right-field corner and scored on a Brandon Knox single for a 3-0 lead. After a strikeout, Reedy was hit by a pitch for the second time and Gray followed with a screaming double that hit the bottom of the stone wall in left field and scored both Knox and Reedy to make the score 5-0.
Kameron Wells followed with a run-scoring single, stole second and went to third when the throw to second wound up in the outfield.
After John Mitchell relieved Goleman, A.J. Stinson ripped liner that ricocheted off Mitchell for an infield single, allowing Wells to score.
The Braves took advantage when Gray's control deserted him in the third inning. Sumrall walked, went to second on a one-out walk to Boleware. Both runners moved up a base on a wild pitch, then Sumrall scored and Boleware went to third base on another wild pitch.
Gray finished off walking Ben Welch to put men on first and third with one out, but Howard hit a soft liner back to Gray, who doubled up Welch at first to end the inning.
Hattiesburg put the game away in the third. Know singled, stole second and then scored when Jaden Richardson's single to left got through the fielder. Richardson wound up at third and walks to Reedy and Gray loaded the bases.
Wells forced in a run with a two-out, bases-loaded walk and Stinson followed with a two-run single to make the score 11-1.
South Jones put the first two runners aboard in the fourth on a hit batsmen and a walk. But Gray got two flyballs and a groudner to first to quell the threat. The Tigers then added two more runs in the bottom of the inning on Jordan's sacrifice fly and an error.
Wells relieved Gray in the fifth inning, and after surrendering a lead-off single to Ducksworth, got two strikeouts and a fly out and the game ended on the 10-run rule.
In addition to Gray's three hits, Stinson and Know had two singles each in the Tigers' 12-hit attack. Tart hit a triple and Richardson, Johnson, Wells and Jordan had single apiece.
South Jones finished with four singles, one each by Sumrall, Boleware, Diers and Ducksworth."
"Hats off to them, and the way that they played," South Jones coach Jordan Rogers said. "I'm still proud of my guys, proud of my seniors and their leadership and the foundation they've set for this program. I'm very proud of what this team has done.