SCOOBA – The East Mississippi Lions kept their possible postseason playoff hopes alive by sweeping visiting Mississippi Gulf Coast, 7-6 and 10-6, in MACJC baseball doubleheader action Saturday afternoon at Gerald Poole Field.
Following a walk-off RBI single by Jo McNabb in the bottom of the ninth to claim the opener, the home-standing Lions maintained the momentum by belting three home runs during their seven-inning nightcap victory to improve to 11-15 in conference action and 15-27 overall. Still vying with as many as five other teams for two remaining playoff spots, the Lions are slated to close out the regular season Monday by entertaining Southwest Mississippi. First pitch for Monday's scheduled twin-bill is set for 3 p.m. on the Scooba campus.
EMCC grabbed the early advantage in the opener by scoring three first-inning runs off Gulf Coast starting pitcher Tyler Rachel on Mike Farnell's two-run double followed by Whitt Davis' run-scoring single. The Lions plated another run in the second on a sacrifice fly by Davis to stake EMCC starter JC Redden to a 4-0 lead.
The Bulldogs came right back to reach Redden for three runs on three hits in the third, including RBI singles by Slater McCarty and Sam Taylor, to cut the deficit to a single run. Following a pair of scoreless innings, the Bulldogs benefitted from two EMCC fielding miscues in the top of the sixth to push across two runs and take their first lead at 5-4.
The two teams traded solo tallies in the eighth inning to set up the climactic final frame. After EMCC reliever Ben Smith worked out of a two-out jam in the top half of the ninth, Gulf Coast closer Brandon Kennedy ran into trouble of his own due to control problems in the home half. After Kennedy issued his third walk of the inning to load the bases with two outs, McNabb greeted reliever Destin Aime with a hard ground ball up the middle that caromed far enough away from the second baseman to allow Emil Ellis and courtesy runner Antoine Watts to score the tying and winning runs, respectively.
The visitors got out to the early lead in the nightcap by plating an unearned run in the first and then adding three more runs in the second on consecutive two-out RBI hits from Chase Rhodes, Andrew Ryals and Ian Goff off EMCC's Stafford.
The Lions answered in a big way by sending a dozen batters to the plate in the bottom of the second on the way to scoring six times on seven hits. Six of those hits came in succession with Austin Lowther's first collegiate home run – a two-run shot – sandwiched between run-producing singles by Ball, Andrew White and Farnell.
After Gulf Coast trimmed the deficit to 6-5 with an unearned run in the third followed an inning later by a one-hour, 11-minute rain and lightning delay, Ellis smashed his second homer of the year – a three-run blast – in the bottom of the fourth to give the Lions a four-run lead.
Stafford, out of New Hope High School, then provided the final dagger in leading off the sixth by cranking his team-leading ninth home run of the year high over the left-field wall to make it a 10-5 contest.
Meanwhile on the mound for the Lions, sophomore right-hander Colton McKeithen earned his first collegiate victory by pitching effectively over the final four innings. The West Lauderdale High School product allowed only a run on just two singles while striking out five and walking two to close out the contest and help seal the doubleheader sweep.
With everyone in their starting lineup hitting safely and scoring at least one run in the nightcap, the Lions' 13-hit attack was paced by Farnell's 3-for-4 outing at the plate. Stafford and Lowther each added singles to their home runs in collecting multiple hits as well for the winners.