For about an inning Tuesday night, the streak appeared safe for Oak Grove. The Warriors, who had beaten rival Petal six straight meetings dating back to 2016, led 4-0 after one and appeared well on their way to number seven.
Instead, Petal buckled down and started chipping away at the early deficit. When it was all said and done, the Panthers scored at least one run in every single inning but the aforementioned first and sixth. That includes a five-run fourth, which allowed Petal to pull away for a 10-6 win, snapping the streak in the process.
“Every win’s great,” Petal head coach Larry Watkins said.
But this one, it always means more.
“I tell ya what, that was a huge win in a division game against a really good team on the road.
“It was huge. That’s all I can say, because they’ve whipped us the last couple of years. This was a big win for our kids, and they’re excited.”
The comeback started in the second inning for Petal, as the Panthers plated their first run off an RBI single from Matt Mercer. In the third, Petal added another, this time off the bat of Zach Parks, to pull within two runs, 4-2. Then, in the fourth, the Panthers exploded for five runs, as they took a 6-4 lead.
Michael Windham scored on a passed ball, Parks picked up another RBI and Nicholas Russell, Colton Rainey and Hunter Dykes each added one of their own.
Dykes, the Panthers’ starting pitcher, was helping his own cause and admitted after the game he “just didn’t have it” that first inning. Then things changed for the Jones County Junior College signee.
“You have to give the best possibility for your team to win,” Dykes said. “That’s what I had to do. Battle. Lock down. Make pitches.”
The Warriors’ four-run first inning turned out to be just a tiny blip on Dykes’ radar, as he stayed the course and pitched the complete game.
“He [Dykes] is such a competitor,” Watkins said. “I was proud of him for battling through the game, because Oak Grove swings the bat pretty good.”
Oak Grove finished with 10 hits in the contest and could have finished with significantly more had it not been for Petal’s play in the field. Dylan Pylant, for example, made two stellar plays in right field that came to mind for Watkins and Dykes.
The Panthers finished with fewer hits (9) than the Warriors. As for errors, Petal committed zero, while Oak Grove recorded six.
“[We] played great defense all night,” Watkins said. “There were some outstanding plays. How many? It was like two by Pylant in right field. Just great plays.”
Pylant added a solo home run in the fifth which pushed Petal’s lead to 8-5. The Panthers added two more runs in their half of the seventh off Parks’ third RBI of the night and an Oak Grove error.
Petal moved to 9-3 overall and first place in district play at 4-1 with the win. Dykes called it a “confidence booster” for his Panthers, who are set to host game two of the series this Thursday night.
“This is a different team,” Dykes said. “We have a different attitude than last year’s team. We’re coming at them [Oak Grove].”
Oak Grove fell to 8-6 overall and 3-2 in district with the loss. The Warriors were led offensively in Tuesday’s contest by DeeJay Booth and Cade Cuevas, who both recorded two RBIs apiece.