MARIANNA, Fla. – East Mississippi Community College opened the 2019 baseball season with a 1-3 showing against NJCAA Division I opposition this past weekend at Chipola Field in Florida. Along with splitting a pair of games with Gordon State, the Lions dropped close decisions to preseason top-ranked Chipola and Columbia State.
In a pair of one-run contests on Friday, EMCC used a three-run fifth inning to claim a 4-3 victory over Gordon State before dropping a narrow 6-5 decision to host and two-time reigning NJCAA Division I national champion Chipola College. On Saturday, the Lions fell, 15-2, in a run-rule rematch with Gordon State prior to concluding their season-opening weekend with an 8-5 loss to Columbia State.
East Mississippi's season opener was decided in the fifth inning when the Lions loaded the bases to begin the frame. Freshman Austin Beech's two-run single was followed by a sacrifice fly from Gage Nyman.
The three-run inning gave starting pitcher Jaxen Forrester his fourth career win for EMCC. Freshman left-hander Gavin McKerchie didn't allow a hit in two innings of work to secure a save in his collegiate spring debut.
Beech and freshman shortstop Tyler Miller paced EMCC's offense in the opener with two singles apiece.
In Friday's second game for the Lions, the visitors answered Chipola's three-run opening frame with three runs of their own in the top of the second. After EMCC loaded the bases with a hit batsman and a pair of walks, freshman Frederic Reynolds smacked a two-run double in front of Jeremy Davis' sacrifice fly.
The Lions later tied the game again at 5-5 on Nyman's pinch-hit RBI double in the top of the sixth inning. However, the top-ranked Indians pushed across the game-winning run in the bottom half of the frame to even up EMCC's record on opening day.
On Saturday morning, Gordon State avenged Friday's one-run loss to the Lions by sending 14 batters to the plate during a 10-run first inning en route to cruising to a 15-2, run-rule decision in five innings over EMCC.
Offensively for EMCC in the rematch, Reynolds had a pair of singles and Miller stroked a run-scoring triple in the third inning off the Highlanders from Barnesville, Georgia.
In their final action of the season-opening weekend, the Lions jumped out to an early 2-0 lead over Columbia State on Philip Martin's two-run double in the third inning. The Chargers, out of Tennessee, answered with three runs in the bottom of the third and added four more scores two frames later to open a 7-2 lead.
EMCC battled back to cut the deficit to 7-5 with three runs in the sixth on Miller's two-run double followed by Beech's sacrifice fly. CSCC added an insurance run in the bottom of the frame for the final tally.
For the weekend in their season-opening competition, the EMCC Lions were led by Beech's 6-for-12 effort at the plate. The Pascagoula product drove in a team-high four runs and scored three times. In a pair of starts apiece over the weekend, Reynolds went 3-for-5 and Nyman was 2-for-4.
On the mound for EMCC, 13 different pitchers saw action during the two days of competition. Forrester and sophomore left-hander Wesley Grantham received the starting nods on Friday, while newcomer Chance Denson and sophomore southpaw Chris Maurin toed the rubber for the Lions to begin Saturday's action.
Coach Brett Kimbrel's EMCC Lions are scheduled to return to the Sunshine State next weekend (Feb. 22-23) to once again play four games in two days. On the campus of Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Florida, EMCC is set to take on Motlow State in a Friday doubleheader beginning at 10 a.m. CT. The Lions are then slated to meet the Tennessee-based Motlow State Bucks again in a single game Saturday at 2 p.m. CT before capping the weekend against the host NWF State Raiders with a scheduled 5 p.m. CT solo contest.