From Friday’s late-game heroics to Saturday’s do-or-die situation, Hattiesburg didn’t miss a beat. Just as head coach Joe Hartfield suggested, the Tigers used their comeback win in game two as a springboard, winning a decisive third game against South Jones, 13-1, in their Class 5A third round playoff matchup.
Hattiesburg scored at least two runs in all four innings they batted in Saturday night. As a result, the Tigers earned the win via the mercy rule, punching their ticket to a third straight South State appearance in style.
“[It was] one of the best games we’ve played all season,” said Hartfield. “I thought we hit the ball probably better than any game we’ve had this year. We hit a lot of balls to right field, and we found the button a lot. Even when we didn’t hit the ball, we had guys drawing walks and getting hit by pitches. We had a lot of hits in four innings.”
The Tigers finished with 12 hits, including a game-high of three from Joe Gray, who also got the start on the mound for Hattiesburg. As the final score indicates, run support came early and often for Gray.
After stranding two South Jones baserunners with a double play in the top of the first inning, Hattiesburg got to work offensively. Gray doubled, and his pinch-runner and another were brought home with an RBI double from Dexter Jordan. Through an inning of play, the Tigers led 2-0.
South Jones appeared to cut that lead in half in the second inning off a Mark Diers RBI single. The baserunner never touched third base on his way home though. Off the dugout’s suggestion, Gray threw over to third baseman AJ Stinson, who touched the bag for a third out and nullified the run.
“I’m glad they caught on to that, because that was a big moment in the game, too,” said Gray. “That pretty much shook the tide, and I know we scored that next inning and threw some hits together.”
Gray and the Tigers put up a five spot in their half of the second, extending their lead to 8-0. In the third inning, South Jones got on the board when Bryson Sumrall scored on a wild pitch. Hattiesburg answered with a three-run third and two-run fourth on the way to picking up the win in five innings.
AJ Stinson drove in a game-high three runs for the Tigers, while Gray, Jordan, Brandon Knox and Kam Wells each brought home two.
And despite some forearm tightness, Gray improved to 5-0 on the mound with four innings of work. The Ole Miss signee added three strikeouts and induced two key double plays.
“Usually my velocity is 88 to 91. It ended up being 79 to 84 today,” said Gray. “It wasn’t like it should, but I knew if I threw strikes that we would be able to stay in this game. We exceeded my expectations and got up on them early.”
Wells pitched the fifth inning for Hattiesburg and struck out the first two South Jones batters he saw. The third and final out came on a pop-up.
Hattiesburg improved to 22-10 with the win. The Tigers will face West Jones next week for the Class 5A South State championship. Hattiesburg won the lone regular season matchup, 4-0, back in March.