SENATOBIA – The fifth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College salvaged a road doubleheader baseball split with division foe Northwest Mississippi Wednesday evening at Jim Miles Field. Following a 27-5 drubbing in the opener at the hands of the Rangers, the visiting Lions earned the split with an 8-4 triumph in the nightcap of the MACJC North Division twin bill.
After being victimized by six Ranger home runs in the run rule-shortened opener, the Lions used the long ball in their favor with a trio of round-trippers in game two. But, it was Colton Caver's two-out, two-run double on a two-strike count in the top of the first that gave EMCC an early 2-0 lead in the nightcap.
Northwest would knot the score at 2-2 with solo runs in each of the first two innings off EMCC starting pitcher J'Daylin Jackson, before the Lions went on their own home run binge. In the fourth inning, Tyler Odom and Kyle Liberto jacked back-to-back homers to get the two runs back for the visitors. Odom's blast was his third of the season and seventh of his EMCC career. Liberto, the losing pitcher in the opener, followed Odom with his first collegiate home run.
With Jackson escaping from one-out jams in both the fourth and fifth innings, including leaving the bases loaded in the fifth, EMCC extended its lead to 6-2 with two more tallies in the fifth. Chase Reeves chased NWCC starting pitcher Tanner Cable by leading off the fifth with his third homer of the year and fourth of his career. Odom added an RBI double later in the inning.
After the Lions tacked on a pair of unearned runs in the sixth to increase their lead to 8-2, the Rangers answered with solo scores during each of the final two frames to deprive Jackson of his first collegiate complete game. Northwest, now 15-11 overall and 5-5 within division play on the season, made things interesting in the bottom of the seventh by again jamming the bases with only one out, before reliever Conner Burton got the final two outs for the visitors to pick up his fourth save of the season. The Rangers left the bases loaded three times during the nightcap and stranded 13 runners total in the contest.
Jackson, a freshman left-hander, threw 130 pitches before being lifted with one out in the seventh. From Greenville's St. Joseph Catholic School, Jackson scattered six hits in giving up four runs, while striking out seven and walking five, to improve to 6-0 on the year. With six victories in seven starts on the mound as a collegiate rookie, Jackson is tied for second nationally among the NJCAA pitching ranks with his 6-0 mark behind fellow unbeaten southpaw Chad Reeves (7-0) of second-ranked LSU Eunice.
After managing but five hits in the opener off Northwest pitching, East Mississippi doubled that total with 10 hits in game two. Sophomore shortstop Chase Nyman, of Pascagoula, led the way with his 3-for-5 effort at the plate, followed by Caver and Odom with two hits and two RBIs apiece.
In the one-sided opener, the Lions managed to grab an early 1-0 lead on Trent Waddell's first-inning sacrifice fly to center field that scored Nyman, who led off the game with a walk. After being held scoreless in the bottom half of the first, the floodgates opened for the hot-hitting Rangers beginning in the second inning. With EMCC's Liberto entering the game with a sparkling 1.10 ERA and owner of four complete games in five pitching starts on the year, Northwest sent 11 batters to the plate in scoring seven runs on seven hits in the second.
Liberto did not make it through the nightmarish third inning when the home team went through the batting order twice on the way to a 12-run frame on nine hits, including a second home run by NWCC's Jay King, who also went deep the previous inning. As if things couldn't get any worse for the visitors, the Rangers trotted out 11 more batters during an eight-run fourth inning that included home runs by James Lear, Chase Clark and Stephen Sexton.
As the first of seven EMCC pitchers in game one, Liberto fell to 4-2 on the year with the loss after allowing seven runs on eight hits in just 1 2/3 innings of work. Despite allowing four runs in the top of the fifth, including Waddell's team-leading fifth home run of the year and ninth of his collegiate career, Northwest's Matt Ferguson was the winning benefactor of 27 runs and 23 hits in game one to even his pitching record at 3-3 for the season.
Sophomore outfielder LeDarious Clark had two of EMCC's five hits in the opening game. In contrast, all nine players in NWCC's starting lineup enjoyed multi-hit performances. Catcher Hunter Austin was 4-for-4 as the Rangers' nine-hole batter to lead the way. Three other Northwest players had three hits apiece, while four different Ranger hitters drove in four runs or more during the lop-sided victory.
Coach Chris Rose's 19-7 EMCC Lions, 6-2 in division play, return home to play host to Itawamba (14-10, 4-4) in a scheduled 1 p.m. Saturday doubleheader at Gerald Poole Field on the Scooba campus.