A six-error, home loss to your biggest rival tends to leave a bad taste in your mouth. In this case for Oak Grove, the Warriors had a short turnaround between their series-opening loss to Petal on Tuesday and the rematch Thursday night.
In the middle on Wednesday, the Warriors, as head coach Chris McCardle said, “Went back to the drawing board”.
“We had a good team meeting and bonding session,” McCardle said. “We talked about having a little more effort and a little more focus.”
A day later, McCardle’s Warriors avenged the loss and beat the Panthers by double digits, 14-4.
“We were a different team tonight for sure.”
It didn’t take Oak Grove very long to showcase that effort and focus. John Rhys Plumlee led off the game with a triple and was brought home soon after by Hayes Maples, as the Warriors took an early 1-0 lead.
After that, Petal starting pitcher Garrett Barger found his groove. The freshman struck out the side in the top of the second and had five total strikeouts through two innings pitched. In Petal’s half of the second, the Panthers tied it, 1-1, on a sac-fly from Matt Mercer which scored Nicholas Russell.
Then, Oak Grove starter Turner Swistak found a groove of his own. Aside from giving up a two-run double to Dylan Pylant in the fifth, Swistak kept the Panthers at bay most of the night. The sophomore finished with six strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings of work.
“He [Swistak] wanted to go all seven [innings]. But I wanted to get him out before that,” McCardle said. “I felt like I was back in the days of McCarty, Braley and Boyd. He just said, ‘Coach, I’m not coming out, I want to finish it’. But he did a tremendous job. As he gets older and gets more time on the mound, he’s going to be special.”
Swistak got run support in bunches when the Warriors’ half of the fifth inning rolled around. In a 1-1 tie with the bases loaded, Tanner Slay cleared them with a three-run triple. Kris Jones, who is less than seven months removed from an ACL tear, followed with a two-run single which gave Oak Grove a 6-1 lead.
Jones made his season debut Tuesday night, and according to McCardle and the stats, it’s like the junior never left.
“We let him [Jones] bat a couple of times in JV Tuesday, and it looked like he had been here the whole year,” McCardle said. “Tremendous player and a big part of our team. We’ve been missing him.”
Pylant’s aforementioned, two-run double pulled the Panthers to within three runs, 6-3, in the bottom of the fifth.
Oak Grove answered with another big inning in the sixth though, as the Warriors plated six runs in the frame. Slay drove in his fourth run of the night, Rhett Blackburn added an RBI and Jones capped it all off with a grand slam over the centerfield wall.
“It felt great, it felt amazing,” Jones said of the home run. “Better than against any other team.
“I missed it all year. Now I’m back, and it feels normal.”
Oak Grove tacked on two more runs in the seventh, as they cruised to the win, improving to 9-6 overall and 4-2 in district play. It’s not a bad spot to be in with the postseason just around the corner, said McCardle.
“We’re on the right path. We’re competing and playing good. We know we can be good if we just keep doing the little things.”
Petal fell to 9-4 overall and 4-2 in district with the loss.
The two teams will meet up for a third and final time in the regular season on Apr. 10 at Oak Grove.