NICEVILLE, Fla. – Competing against a pair of NJCAA Division I foes, the East Mississippi Community College baseball team opened the 2014 campaign by splitting a pair of tournament decisions with both host Northwest Florida State College and Georgia Perimeter College during the two-day Carl McInnis Classic.
On Friday, the EMCC Lions bounced back from a 6-1 setback to the host NWF State Raiders by claiming a 7-3 victory over Georgia Perimeter. The next day during a pair of rematches, East Mississippi recovered from a tough-luck 1-0 loss to GPC to earn a 3-1 win in eight innings over Northwest Florida State in the nightcap.
During opening day, the Lions doubled their hit total from their loss to NWF State by getting eight hits against Georgia Perimeter. In Friday's nightcap, EMCC sandwiched a three-run third inning, highlighted by a two-run single by LeDarious Clark, between solo-run efforts in the first, second fourth and fifth frames.
Clark, rated as the nation's No. 40 junior college prospect by renowned scouting service Perfect Game, and fellow sophomore outfielder Colton Caver had two hits apiece in EMCC's initial winning effort of the season.
Making his collegiate debut on the mound, left-hander J'Daylin Jackson pitched into the final inning before giving way to Brock McKnight. Jackson, from Greenville's St. Joseph Catholic School, scattered six hits and gave up two runs over 6.1 innings to secure the victory.
The following day, East Mississippi also proved victorious in the nightcap after dropping the 1-0 decision in Saturday's opener. Featuring a classic pitching duel between EMCC freshman Kyle Liberto and GPC's Joe Marlow, the game's lone run came in the sixth inning. Following a lead-off walk to LaDonis Bryant and a subsequent stolen base to get into scoring position, Charles Sheffield later singled in the only run of the contest with two outs.
Liberto, from Gulfport's Hancock High School, surrendered the lone run and scattered four hits, while fanning two and walking four, during the seven-inning, complete-game effort in his collegiate debut.
Another classic ballgame followed during Saturday's finale as EMCC and NWF State had to play an extra frame to decide the outcome. The home-standing Raiders scored first when Lion starter Joshua Griffis allowed a two-out walk to Jack Crittenberger in the fifth inning. Reliever Conner Burton gave up consecutive singles to Ty Russ and Steven Jernigan to push across the game's first run.
The Lions immediately answered with a tying solo tally in the sixth. A lead-off walk to Caver was followed by a Trent Waddell single off Raider starter Brian Browning. Successive fielder's choices by Odom and Nyman knotted the score at 1-1 and sent the game into a deciding eighth inning.
In the top half of the extra frame, EMCC two-sport athlete Brandon Acker reached on an infield error to begin the inning. Following a Waddell single and Odom reaching via a hit-by-pitch, Nyman, a former all-state player at Pascagoula High School, stroked a bases-loaded, two-run single to make it a 3-1 contest.
The drama didn't stop there, however, as the host Raiders would load the bases themselves in the bottom half of the inning. After EMCC's Hunter Graham walked the lead-off batter, Hunter Swart came on to record back-to-back fly-ball outs. The tension grew for the Lions as Ryan Fucci singled and Danny Blanco walked to fill the bases. Swart then got Onix Martinez to pop out to second base for the game's final out.
Caver and Waddell had two hits apiece for the Lions in Saturday's tournament finale.
Coach Chris Rose's 2-2 EMCC Lions next take on Wallace Community College Selma in a neutral-site doubleheader to be contested Thursday (Feb. 13) in Livingston, Ala. Slated for a 5 p.m. start, the twinbill will be played at Tartt Field on the University of West Alabama campus.