SCOOBA – Despite a pair of excellent outings by their starting pitchers, the Lions of East Mississippi Community College dropped their conference-opening home baseball doubleheader against Copiah-Lincoln during Saturday's MACJC action at Gerald Poole Field. After a ninth-inning comeback attempt in the opening game ultimately resulted in an 11-5 setback in 15 innings, EMCC couldn't hold a late lead in the nightcap en route to dropping a 3-2 decision to the visiting Wolves.
The first contest initially featured a pitching duel between EMCC's Jaxen Forrester and Conner Ingram of Co-Lin. The sophomore right-handers only allowed two hits apiece through six shutout innings. After the two starters gave way to their respective bullpens, the Wolves took advantage of a pair of EMCC errors, three walks and a hit batsman to push across three runs in the top of the seventh on only one hit.
The Lions initially got on the scoreboard in the bottom half of the frame to make it a two-run game heading into the dramatic ninth inning. After Co-Lin got the run back in the top of the inning on a bases-loaded walk, EMCC freshman shortstop Tyler Miller stroked a three-run, inside-the-park home run to right field with two outs off reliever Zach Smith to tie the score at 4-4 and send the opener into extra innings.
Following five scoreless extra frames, the top of the 15th inning began innocently enough for EMCC sophomore left-hander Garrett Brown. In his sixth inning of solid relief work, Brown retired the first two batters before Brooks Italiano hit a fly-ball single to center field. Justin Johnson's double to left field was then misplayed and two resulting Lion errors brought home the go-ahead run. Nine consecutive Co-Lin batters reached base safely following the inning's first two outs, as the Wolves sent a total of 12 batters to the plate in scoring seven times to secure the marathon victory in a contest that lasted nearly five and a half hours.
The nightcap also showcased excellent pitching performances from EMCC's Wesley Grantham and Austin Tidwell of Co-Lin. The Wolves again benefited from a Lion miscue to take an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Two innings later, doubles by Miller and Dillon Morgan knotted the score at 1-1 after three innings.
The Lions took their first lead of the day in the bottom of the sixth when Frederic Reynolds beat out a one-out infield hit. Pinch-runner Brendan Logan then moved to second on an infield out and stole third before being driven home on Dillon Brown's line drive to center field.
With Grantham cruising along on the mound with 10 strikeouts and the visitors down to their final strike in the top of the seventh, Ryan Zimmerman and Kylar Fielder reached base safely on consecutive hits to the left side of the infield. Italiano then flared a blooper that was mishandled behind second base and allowed both runners to cross home plate. Co-Lin reliever Konner Allen promptly nailed down the comeback win and completed the sweep by retiring the Lions in order in the home half of the seventh.
Miller, a 23rd-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in last year's Major League Baseball Draft, had two of EMCC's five hits in the second contest. Grantham, a sophomore left-hander out of Central Hinds Academy, was saddled with the tough-luck loss for the Lions after giving up three unearned runs on six hits while pitching into the seventh inning.
Coach Brett Kimbrel's 3-11 EMCC Lions will continue MACJC baseball action by taking on the 12th-ranked Indians of Itawamba Community College during a Tuesday twin bill in Fulton. First pitch is set for 3 p.m. at ICC's Roy Cresap Field.