FULTON – The seventh-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College completed their season sweep of rival Itawamba Community College while also maintaining their one-game lead atop the MACJC's North Division baseball standings with 12-10 and 7-2 road victories over the Indians Wednesday evening at Roy Cresap Field.
Coupled with Northeast Mississippi's home sweep over Coahoma on Wednesday, head coach Chris Rose's EMCC Lions enter Saturday's showdown against the NEMCC Tigers with a division-leading 17-5 mark. Northeast enters Saturday's regular-season finale in Scooba sporting records of 24-16 overall and 16-6 in division play. First pitch Saturday is slated for 1 p.m. at EMCC's Gerald Poole Field. The two teams split their initial season series in Booneville to open the month of April with EMCC taking the opener 7-5 and Northeast rebounding with an 8-1 victory in the nightcap.
Including the Lions' previous sweep (8-6, 5-3) of Itawamba last month in Scooba, East Mississippi's overall record of 30-10 marks the program's first 30-win season since 1994. EMCC's 17-5 division ledger is the team's best since a 17-7 league mark in 1998 secured the Lions' most recent MACJC North Division baseball title.
In their final regular-season road action, the Lions broke a 9-9 tie in the scheduled nine-inning opener at Itawamba with a three-run eighth inning off ICC reliever Ben Aldridge. After the Indians had knotted the score with four runs in the sixth inning, EMCC's Chase Nyman blooped a double to get things going in the eighth for the visitors. Following Chase Reeves' RBI single, Tyler Odom smacked his fourth home run of the year to extend the lead to 12-9.
In relief of EMCC starting pitcher Kyle Liberto and middle reliever Brock McKnight, freshman left-hander Tyler Young worked a perfect seventh inning for the Lions. However, the Presbyterian Christian School product ran into trouble when ICC's Tanner Poole capped a 4-for-5 outing at the plate with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the eighth. With sophomore right-hander Conner Burton now in relief of Young, the Indians proceeded to load the bases with no outs. After getting Luke Gibbs to pop out, Burton induced an inning-ending, double-play ball off the bat of Austin Welch to preserve the 12-10 victory.
Young received credit for the win to improve to 2-0 on the season, while Burton, a product of East Webster High School, picked up his sixth save of the campaign.
Offensively in the opener for the Lions, Odom and Trent Waddell led the way with three hits apiece. Odom, from Oak Grove High School, drove home three runs in game one and he scored his second of three runs after his leadoff triple in the fifth was followed by Waddell's sixth home run of the year. From Tuscaloosa's Northridge High School, Waddell also had a two-run double in the third to knock in four total runs in the opening contest.
The visitors never trailed in the nightcap after the Lions staked starting pitcher Andrew Crane to a 4-0 lead with a four-run third inning. Following back-to-back singles from Brandon Acker and Kyle Liberto to get the rally started, EMCC received run-scoring singles from Dylan Vuncannon and LeDarious Clark along with RBI doubles by Nyman and Reeves.
Crane, a freshman right-hander from Pascagoula, was cruising along until the fourth when Ethan Gill's two-run blast cut the deficit in half at 4-2. The Lions immediately responded by getting those two runs back plus adding another score with a three-run fifth inning. After Nyman led off the frame with his third home run of the season, and EMCC's third round-tripper of the day, Colton Caver drilled a two-run double to account for the final margin.
In raising his pitching record to 5-1 on the season, Crane worked the first six innings before handing the ball to Waddell in the seventh for his first mound appearance of the year. The sophomore left-hander responded by closing out the 7-2 triumph and completing EMCC's 10th doubleheader sweep of the campaign.