Photo/Zac Chamblee

Petal’s 1-6 start to the 2019 season felt like a distant memory around 10 pm Saturday night as the Panthers celebrated an 11-8 win over D’Iberville in the opening round of the Class 6A playoffs. Twenty-four hours earlier, the Panthers set the stage for a first round sweep with an 11-7 road victory. 

Petal (13-14) advances to face Biloxi in next week’s second round.

“From where we started at the beginning of the year, it means a lot to me to see these guys grow and handle the adversity of losses early in the season,” Petal coach Shane Kelly said. “They never gave in, so to get this first round win is huge for us. I think it shows a lot about these guys not giving up and staying in the fight.”

Behind a five-run second inning, the Panthers built a 6-1 advantage against D’Iberville on Saturday, but the Warriors steadily chipped away at that lead before tying the game at 8-8 in the sixth. Petal responded in the bottom of the inning with three runs, two of which were the result of unforced errors by D’Iberville, to pull out the win. 

“We played good enough to win tonight,” Kelly said. “They kept making runs at us, and we kept making runs back at them. It was really a full team effort. I put a lot of guys in. Pinch-hitters, pinch-runners and pitchers on the mound.”

Matt Mercer got the start on the mound for Petal, and the junior went three innings in his first extended start back from injury. Bobby Magee, Eli Counts and DeCarlos Nicholson followed out of the bullpen. Nicholson got the call in the seventh inning with Petal up 11-8 and D’Iberville baserunners on first and second with nobody out. The right-hander got two strikeouts and a groundout to strand the runners and seal the win for Petal. 

Blake Hooks led the Panthers at the plate with three RBI. Aside from an RBI single from Logan Walters, the rest of Petal’s runs came via D’Iberville errors or wild pitches. The Panthers got by with a handful of mistakes themselves, but Kelly knows they cannot afford to repeat those against Biloxi. The Indians (25-3) have won 13 of 14 after falling to Petal, 7-4, at MGM Park on March 15. 

“We’ve gotta play sound baseball and make no mistakes,” Kelly said. “They got a really good pitching staff and hit the ball good. They’re gonna be tough, but if we come ready to play, I think we’ve got a chance.”