NICEVILLE, Fla. – The East Mississippi Community College baseball team enjoyed a successful 3-1 weekend at the season-opening Max Bruner Classic played this past Friday and Saturday. Competing against two NJCAA Division I opponents, EMCC swept Enterprise State (AL) Community College and split with host Northwest Florida State College.
Marking the fourth consecutive year to open their baseball season at the NWF State-hosted event in Niceville, Florida, seventh-year EMCC head coach Chris Rose's Lions began this year's tournament by winning both games Friday in come-from-behind fashion. Trailing 4-1 through four innings in the opener against Enterprise State, EMCC scored eight runs over the final three innings to come away with a 9-5 victory.
Sophomore outfielder Marcus Ragan smacked a pair of triples to lead the Lions offensively in their opener. Sophomore right-hander Whitt Davis struck out eight batters during his three-inning starting assignment on the mound. Sophomore Cole Gullette picked up his first of two wins in relief on the weekend, while sophomore Eli Leathers notched a save in the tourney opener.
During Friday's nightcap against the host Raiders, the Lions climbed out of an early 3-0 hole to knot the score at 3-3 heading into the dramatic final inning. In the top of the seventh, EMCC freshman De'Andre Pitts walked to lead off the frame. Pinch-runner Isaiah Eiland moved to second on a balk and advanced to third on the inning's second out. At the bottom of the order, Lion shortstop Anthony Hickman swung and missed at a 2-2 pitch, but the ball got away from the NWF State catcher and Eiland scampered home with the go-ahead run as Hickman was able to reach first safely. In the bottom half of the seventh, EMCC reliever Bubba Stockstill walked Mike Salvatore to lead off the inning, who later stole second to get into scoring position. NWF State then got a two-out hit up the middle, but Salvatore was easily thrown out at home by Hickman from the outfield grass to end the contest.
Freshman outfielder Destin Payton led EMCC in Friday's nightcap, comeback win with a 2-for-3 effort at the plate, highlighted by his clutch two-out, two-run single in the second inning. Stockstill recorded the victory by working two scoreless innings in relief of sophomore Alex Knight, who allowed just three hits and one earned run over five innings to start the contest for the Lions.
Rebounding from Saturday's 10-2 setback to Northwest Florida State to even the series, the Lions capped the tournament with a classic 13-12 come-from-behind victory over Enterprise State. This time, EMCC initially trailed 9-3 in the fifth inning before knotting the score at 9-9 through six innings. The Lions then courageously battled back from a three-run deficit in the final frame by plating three improbable two-out runs of their own in the bottom half of the seventh to force an extra inning. Down 12-9 with two outs and the bases empty in the bottom of the seventh, the Lions were down to their final strike again for the second time in less than 24 hours when second baseman Tucker Calhoun was able to race safely to first base via another dropped third strike on a swinging 2-2 pitch. Subsequent hits by Ragan, Payton and Austin Lowther helped send the contest to a deciding eighth inning. With Gullette on in relief for the second straight day, the former Caledonia High School product worked out of a jam in the top half of the frame to keep the Boll Weevils off the scoreboard despite having their leadoff hitter reach third base after back-to-back hits to begin the inning. In the bottom half, EMCC redshirt sophomore Corley Reynolds drew a walk to open the frame but remained at first following a pair of outs. He then stole second in advance of Calhoun's two-out, walk-off single to left field that capped the Lions' successful season-opening weekend of comeback baseball in the Sunshine State.
With 11 hits as a team in their tournament finale, the Lions received two-hit efforts from Calhoun, Pitts, who reached base all five times with three walks, and Knight, who had a pair of run-scoring doubles and a walk in three at-bats. On the mound in the team's tournament finale, EMCC used six pitchers during Saturday's nightcap, including Starkville Academy's Luke Templeton in a starting role.
For the four-game, two-day tournament, EMCC was paced at the plate by Pitts, who batted a team-high .444 with four hits and five runs scored in nine official at-bats in addition to drawing five walks. Calhoun and Knight each hit .400 (2-for-5), while Lowther and Ragan followed at .375 and .313, respectively.
The 3-1 EMCC Lions are scheduled to return to the diamond on Tuesday, Feb. 14, with a road doubleheader against Bishop State Community College in Mobile, Alabama.