The Hattiesburg Tigers picked an unfortunate night to have what coach Joe Hartfield called “their worst execution offensively all year”. Despite having ample opportunities to score, they never once got on the board in their must-win regular season finale at North Pike Monday night.
All told, the defending 5A champion Tigers left 11 runners on base in the 1-0 loss as they fell short of the third and final playoff spot in Region 7-5A.
“We didn’t execute very well tonight at all, and a lot of that is because of the way North Pike plays,” Hartfield said. “They’re going to sit there and throw strikes, and they’re going to hold you really close to the bases. They’re well-coached, and both kids they threw on the mound really competed tonight.”
The same can be said for Hattiesburg’s pitching staff in this game. Jairus McFarland got the start on the mound for the Tigers. After recording the first two outs in the bottom of the first inning, McFarland allowed a solo homer to North Pike’s Parker Phillips, but Hartfield was quick to say the blast was not on his pitcher.
“That was on the coaches,” he said. “We called a ball, and the guy guessed right. He’s a good enough hitter and left the ballpark.”
McFarland ended up going two innings prior to being replaced by Landon Rascoe. With one out in the bottom of the third, Rascoe faced a bases-loaded situation with two out after issuing a pair of walks and having a runner make it to first base on a dropped third strike. The senior got out of the jam and kept the deficit at 1-0 by getting the next batter to fly out.
From the fourth inning and on, the Tigers had multiple opportunities to take advantage offensively. Both in the top of the fourth and the fifth, they had a pair of baserunners reach with nobody out, but North Pike pitcher Peyton Badon managed to escape both situations unscathed, getting a double play in the fourth and picking off Hattiesburg’s lead runner in the fifth.
From the outside looking in, North Pike’s solo homer in the first inning brought minimal damage, but Hartfield says it came with lasting effects.
“We got down early with that solo home run, and I think we just played so uptight tonight and couldn’t quite relax enough to execute our offense,” he explained.
Still, the Tigers made another run at cracking the scoreboard and tying the game in the seventh. With a runner on third and nobody out in the bottom of the sixth, North Pike appeared destined to add to their lead, but Jerry Burkett replaced Rascoe on the mound for Hattiesburg and got two strikeouts and a fly-out to strand the runner and keep the Tigers within striking distance.
“Jerry coming in with a guy on third and no outs, and not letting that run score was huge,” Hartfield said. “I kept hoping some of the things we did defensively would get us going offensively.”
With one out in the top of the seventh, the Tigers had the tying run at second base and the go-ahead at first, but a strikeout and a pop-up ended the game.
The Tigers finish their season 13-10. They will return six starters next season, so Hartfield expects them to be back in the postseason soon.
“Hopefully we’ll grow a lot,” he said. “Then again, it’s sad because I really felt like if we could get into the playoffs this year, we had the bullpen to make a run. We’ve hit the ball well this year; We just didn’t get it done tonight.”