No lead, especially in the playoffs, appears safe against Hattiesburg. Last season with a state championship berth on the line, the Tigers rallied from a seven-run deficit to defeat Pearl River Central in a game one. Their latest comeback wasn’t quite as improbable, but with it coming in an elimination game, it felt just as big if not bigger.
Hattiesburg rallied from five runs down to force a decisive game three against South Jones, winning a four-hour marathon, 11-8, in Ellisville.
“We could’ve clocked out at any moment of time,” said Tiger head coach Joe Hartfield. “A lot of crushing things happened to us, but we kept our composure better tonight than we have been. [I’ve] never been more proud of this group than I am tonight.”
Through four innings of play, Hattiesburg trailed South Jones, 6-1, in game two of their Class 5A third round playoff matchup. The Braves took game one, 8-3, the night before and were now just nine outs away from moving on to South State.
Staring at a possible end to their state championship aspirations, Hartfield preached patience.
“We didn’t have to score all the runs in one inning,” said Hartfield. “I let them know that we still had three innings left when we were down 6-1. That’s a lot of innings for us.”
So Hartfield’s Tigers starting chipping away. In the fifth inning, they pulled to within three runs after Dexter Jordan delivered a sacrifice-fly and Joe Gray scored on a passed ball. In the sixth, another score off an RBI from Cam Lott made it a two-run ballgame at 6-4. After South Jones added an insurance run in the sixth, Hattiesburg put up a three spot in seventh to tie the game at seven runs apiece. Letrelle Johnson drew a bases-loaded walk, Caleb Tart added an RBI single and AJ Stinson scored on a passed ball.
In extra innings, South Jones had a chance to walk it off, only to have the winning run cut down at the plate on a near-perfect throw from Kam Wells in right field to Tiger catcher Brandon Knox at home plate. The out kept the Tigers alive and the game tied 7-7 headed to the ninth inning.
“Kam came up and threw a strike to home plate,” said Hartfield. “You have to give our catcher, Brandon Knox, credit. He held on to the baseball. The guy slid hard, and he [Knox] was able to hang in there. That was probably the biggest play tonight, especially defensively.”
Hattiesburg took advantage in its half of the ninth, scoring four runs off RBIs from Jordan, Stinson and Jaden Richardson, as well as a passed ball which scored Jay Reedy. South Jones fought back in the bottom of the frame, adding a run on a bases-loaded hit by pitch. With the bases still loaded and two out, the Tigers turned to Wells to get the final out. A few pitches later, Wells got a flyout to complete the comeback, 11-8.
Hattiesburg improved to 21-10 with the win. Reedy, who put together several innings of work out of the bullpen, earned the win on the mound for the Tigers.
South Jones fell to 17-11 with the loss. The Braves were led at the plate by Ben Welch, who drove in two runs on the night.
Next comes game three which will be played Saturday night at 7 pm at Smokie Harrington Park. The winner will advance to face either West Jones or Pearl River Central in the Class 5A semifinals next week.