SOSO, MS. _ - One player does not a baseball team make, but, man, oh, man, does Joe Gray make a difference for the Hattiesburg High School.
Gray collected three hits, scored twice, drove in two runs and patrolled center field like a security guard as Hattiesburg erased an early one-run deficit to take a 6-3 victory Thursday night over host West Jones High School in the opener of the Class 5A South State championship baseball series.
Game two is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Smokie Harrington Park.
Gray singled twice and crushed a two-run home run in the Tigers' decisive, three run fifth inning as HHS (23-10) took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
"You've got impact players and sometimes, they just wear you out," West Jones coach Trey Sutton said. "But you've got several guys in that order, where if you make a mistake, they're going to hit it. Heck, sometimes, you don't make a mistake and they're going to hit it."
Gray, indeed, had plenty of help, as the Tigers rapped out 11 hits, including a double and single by Jaden Richardson and two singles by A.J. Stinson. Jay Reedy, Caleb Tart, Jerry Burkett and Dexter Jordan each had a single.
West Jones (27-4) hurt itself with five errors, including three that figured in half the Tigers' runs.
All that was more than enough support for Jordan (7-3), who allowed seven hits in going the distance.
Jordan walked only one and struck out four. He allowed a leadoff double in the third inning to Hayden Bynum, who came around to score three batters later on Colson Harris sacrifice fly to give the Mustangs a 1-0 lead.
But Jordan got downright stingy after that, allowing just one hit and two baserunners over the next three innings as Hattiesburg scored in three consecutive innings to lead 6-1 and take command of the game.
"That was a good run he had there," HHS coach Joe Hartfield said. "They weren't necessarily strikeouts. He got some guys out on their front foot, got some two-pitch outs. He did a really good job there.
"But the big thing was he didn't allow them to get any momentum, and that really helped. For him to be able to pitch seven innings in a game like this, at their place, against a really good ballteam with really good fan support, it was just excellence."
Before a crowd that West Jones athletic director Scott Pierson called the largest he had seen in his 17 years, the Mustangs took a 1-0 lead on Bynum's double, a single by Hayden Bryan and Harris' sac fly.
But Hattiesburg got to West Jones starter Dustin Dickerson (8-1) in the fourth inning.
Gray, who had reached on an infield single in the first, hit a sinking liner to left field that got past the fielder and rolled to the wall. He reached third on the play, credited with a single and a two-base fielding error.
After Jordan walked and stole second, Kameron Wells hit a grounder to the right side, scoring Gray to tie the game and sending Jordan to third.
A.J. Stinson followed with a sharp grounder to third base. Jordan broke for the plate, and when the throw went wide, he scored to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead.
The Tigers broke the game open in the fifth. Richardson doubled with one out and scored on Reedy's single to right field. Gray followed with his seventh home run of the season, taking a 3-2 pitch over the wall in left field.
"He's peaking right now, and that's a good sign," Hartfield said. "Our players feed off him. Of course, when your best player hits the ball, that's a good thing to feed off. (Gray) did a great job (Thursday).
HHS tacked on a run in the sixth when Tart singled, went to second on an error, to third on a single by Richardson and scored when Reedy was hit by a pitch.
West Jones cut the deficit to three runs in the seventh inning, when Garrett McLaurin and Bynum singled and scored on Bryan's two-out double into the right-center field gap.
"How are you going to respond?" Sutton said. "That's what we just got done talking to them about. We've been down in games and come back and won ballgames, and now we're in kind of a different but similar situation.
"We're down 1-0 in a series, so I fully expect them to come out and play better (Friday). Every loss we've had this year, we've responded with really good games."
Sutton said he wasn't sure about the availability of Dickerson for Friday. The junior suffered a dislocated left shoulder diving for a grounder after being relieved with one out in the sixth inning and moving to shortstop.
"I'm not sure of his status right now," Sutton said. "He's a tough kid, so he's going to want to play. Obviously, if he can be serviceable out there, we're going to have him in there, but it's going to depend on his pain tolerance."