SCOOBA – The seventh-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College overcame an 8-0, fourth-inning deficit to claim a 14-11 comeback victory over visiting Northeast Mississippi during Saturday's doubleheader opener to clinch the MACJC North Division baseball championship at Gerald Poole Field. Northeast prevailed in the nightcap, 18-4, to earn the division's No. 2 seed heading into next week's best-of-three MACJC baseball playoff series.
Earning the school's first division baseball title since 1998, head coach Chris Rose's 31-11 EMCC Lions, 18-6 in division play, will play host to the No. 4 seed from the MACJC's South Division in a best-of-three series taking place Friday and Saturday (May 2-3) on the Scooba campus. Friday's first pitch is slated for 7 p.m., while game two is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday. A third and deciding game, if necessary, will follow on Saturday.
Entering Saturday's final regular-season doubleheader needing just one win against Northeast to earn EMCC's first division baseball crown in 16 years, the Lions got off to an inauspicious start in game one. After plating two runs in the second, the Tigers chased EMCC starting pitcher Joshua Griffis by batting around the next frame. The big hits in the visitors' five-run third both came with two outs – a two-run single by Ben Foster followed two batters later by a two-run double off the bat of Jack Hurdle. A leadoff home run by Easton Hall off Lion reliever Brock McKnight in the fourth upped the margin to 8-0.
After being limited to just two hits by NEMCC starting pitcher Cody Bo Dillard through the first three innings, the Lions went through the lineup in the bottom of the fourth to produce four runs on five hits. Trent Waddell's two-run single highlighted the inning to cut the deficit in half at 8-4.
With sophomore left-hander Hunter Floyd holding the Tigers in check through the middle innings, EMCC crept to within a one with a three-run fifth inning. With two outs, Tyler Odom was hit by a pitch and Waddell walked as Dillard exited the contest. Colton Caver promptly greeted reliever Landon Boyd with a three-run blast – his first of three homers on the day - over the left-field wall to make it an 8-7 ballgame.
Northeast got those three runs back two innings later off Floyd, who wild-pitched a run in and then surrendered a two-run double down the left-field line to Luke Stanley after back-to-back singles by Foster and Drew Wray. Down 11-7, the Lions batted through the order again in the bottom of the seventh to complete the comeback. Following an opposite-field RBI double off the wall by Brandon Acker, Chase Nyman's run-scoring single set up the game's big blow. With the bases loaded, LeDarious Clark lined a bases-clearing double into left field off reliever Ben Hellums for his third hit of the contest to give EMCC its first lead (12-11) of the day.
With relievers Andrew Crane and Conner Burton closing out the contest by working the final 2 2/3 innings, the two right-handers combined to get the Lions out of a jam in the eighth inning. Burton inherited two base runners with two outs before promptly walking Wray on four pitches to load the bases. The East Webster product responded by fanning pinch-hitter Josh Peterson to thwart the potential rally.
East Mississippi tacked on a couple of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth to account for the final margin. Caver, a sophomore from Gulfport, led off the frame by smacking his second home run of the contest. Dylan Vuncannon added a sacrifice fly that scored Acker for the game's final run.
Crane, a freshman from Pascagoula, improved his record to 6-1 on the year, while Burton picked up his seventh save of the campaign.
Caver, who added his third homer of the day – his first three round-trippers of the season - in the nightcap, paced EMCC's 15-hit attack in the opener by going 4-for-5 at the plate with four runs batted in and four runs scored. Clark was 3-for-6 in game one, including his clutch three-run double in the seventh inning. Nyman and Vuncannon added two hits apiece in the opener for the winners.
Northeast, now 25-17 overall and 17-7 heading into the postseason, managed 13 hits off EMCC pitching in game one. Foster and Stanley each had three hits for the Tigers and combined for seven RBIs between them.