A win is a win, but Oak Grove coach Chris McCardle has his eye on the big picture. For the Warriors, that’s bringing home a state championship in May. And if Thursday’s division-opener at Petal was any real indicator, McCardle says they have a ways to go, albeit they did beat the Panthers, 9-4, and move to 5-0 on the season.
“We just haven’t got going yet,” he said. “We’re not playing solid, we’re not pitching good. We left a lot of guys on base, and you gotta give Petal credit. They got a good team. They’re young, but coach [Shane] Kelly does a good job with them.
“We gotta be better. We’re talented enough to be better, and we just need to keep playing.”
That’s been tough recently with the rainy weather that’s plagued the area. It’s kept McCardle’s team from playing or practicing on their home field since the first week of the season. The plan, however, is for the Warriors to host Petal in the second installment of their three-game, regular season series on Friday.
For Oak Grove, it’ll be a new opportunity to cash in on baserunners. The Warriors loaded the bases four times in four different innings on Thursday, but they were only able to push across nine total runs.
Three came in the second inning with Tate Ryder scoring on a wild pitch and John Rhys Plumlee adding a two-run triple. In the fourth, DeeJay Booth blasted his second home run of the season, a two-run shot, to put Oak Grove up 5-0. The next inning, Kade Shannon joined the party—literally. Shannon, who was cleared to play earlier on Thursday after dealing with ACL injuries the last season and a half, drove in a run in his first at-bat back, making it 6-0 Oak Grove.
“He looked good at the plate today,” McCardle said of Shannon. “He batted in junior varsity and looked good, and he got a good swing there with some runs on base. We need him, and hopefully he’ll just keep getting better as we move forward.”
In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Panthers (1-6) got on the board with a three-spot, cutting the Warrior lead in half to 6-3 off two wild pitches and an RBI single from Logan Walters.
At that point, Oak Grove starting pitcher Turner Swistak was off the mound. The junior right-hander went four-plus innings with nine strikeouts, but he allowed two batters to reach via base on balls prior to being replaced with one out in the fifth by Kris Jones, who went the final two-plus innings. Swistak walked five batters and, like Jones, allowed two base runners to score on the night.
“Swistak did a good job,” McCardle said. “He didn’t have his best stuff. That’s his second time out, so we just need to keep playing. And KJ came in, and he hadn’t pitched a whole lot over his career. His shoulder was hurt as a sophomore, and last year he had the knee injury and didn’t play. It’s good to get him up there.”
In the sixth, Oak Grove got a bit of breathing room with yet another three-spot, as Peyton Peoples scored on a wild pitch, Liam Breithaupt drove in a run with a sac-fly and Rhett Blackburn added an RBI single to make it 9-3.
The Panthers answered with one final run in the bottom of the inning off Oak Grove’s third error of the game.
“We got some things to work on, but we got other guys that have to step up,” McCardle said. “It’s next man up because we’re not a one-man show.
“Just gotta do better.”