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By RUSSELL TURNER – Herald Editor
This is a huge week on the baseball and softball diamonds for Greene County High School as both the Wildcats and the Lady Cats square off against the region’s top teams over the next several days.
Bragging rights, as well as playoff implications, are on the line for both teams as the baseball team takes on powerhouse Sumrall in a home-and-away series Tuesday and Friday, while the Lady Cats travel to Purvis Tuesday and play hosts to Sumrall on Thursday.
“It is a big week for us for sure,” GCHS head softball coach Tyler Barham said Monday. “Purvis seems to be the team positioned as the top dog in the region with a good lineup and solid pitching and Sumrall is always competitive.”
“We’ve been playing pretty well of late with strong defense and timely hitting carrying us to some big wins. We just want to keep it going and take that next step and this week will be a big test in that regard.”
Barham’s team has won three in a row since taking one on the chin at Lawrence County in the region opener two weeks ago. One of those wins was a 2-1 extra-innings win over Poplarville last Thursday. They also had a 4-3 road win over a strong Pascagoula team Tuesday. Those wins and the manner in which they were earned were milestones for Barham and his team.
“Up until last week, we hadn’t played a full 7-inning game and I was really proud of the way our ladies stepped up when tested in those situations,” Barham said. “It was a big growing curve for us to win those tight games.”
“Our players are starting to believe and to understand that if they go out and individually take care of what their jobs are on each pitch then our team has a chance to win against anyone we play. And, it hasn’t been just one or two key players making a difference for us. We’ve had different people stepping up and making big plays each game.”
Sophomore Hanna Hillman led the way against Pascagoula last week. The lefty first-baseman / pitcher had two of the team’s six hits, scored and also earned the save in the pitcher’s circle. Juniors Destiny Eubanks and Kayla Mazzocchi also had big hits for the Lady Cats, who scored four runs in the third inning to claim the win.
Freshman Charleigh Stewart earned the pitching win, keeping the Panthers off the board for three straight innings before handing the ball off to Hillman in the seventh. Stewart scattered six hits over six innings of work, striking out four and walking two.
On Thursday, Hillman went the distance to win the 8-inning affair over Poplarville. She gave up one earned run in the sixth inning and got a lot of solid defensive help along the way.
The two teams were tied after seven innings. Per the MHSAA rules, each team started their part of the eighth inning with a runner on second base. Poplarville looked poised to take the lead in the top of the inning, but a big play by sophomore catcher Tiana Caver and freshman third baseman Charlee Meadows nailed a Hornet baserunner at third to end the threat.
In the bottom half of the inning, Eubanks started out on second for the Lady Cats and was promptly bunted over to third by senior Paris Pierce. Mazzocchi followed that bunt with a perfect one of her own to push Eubanks across for the win. Mazzocchi had two hits in the game to lead GCHS and scored the Lady Cats’ only other run on an RBI single by Kat Garrett in the sixth.
Wildcats face tough task vs Bobcats
After dropping a 1-run decision on the road last Tuesday, GCHS responded with a convincing win over Lawrence County on Friday to split the series and move to 1-1 in region play.
They followed that win with an 8-0 victory over Bay High on Saturday, giving the team a shot of momentum heading into this week’s series with highly-touted Sumrall.
“They are as good a forecasted,” Coach Nick Chatham said of Sumrall. “They’ve played a very tough non-region schedule and are off to a 2-0 start in the region (with a sweep of Poplarville last week).”
“They have a lot of returning players and do a lot of things very well. But, we are going into it fully expecting to win.”
The secret to doing that, according to Chatham, really isn’t a secret at all. His teams just needs to approach these games just like the other games – throw strikes, play solid defense and try to be the team with the least amount of mistakes.
The team making the least miscues, typically wins, Chatham said. That was definitely the case in the series with Lawrence County as GCHS committed five errors and gave up 10 runs in the second and third innings at Monticello last Tuesday. They battled back to tie the game after six innings, but couldn’t push the game to extra innings as the Cougars scored on a walkoff sacrifice fly to win the game.
GCHS outhit Lawrence County in the loss with seniors Garrett West, Kenneth Moore and Noah Mitchell leading the way. West was 3-for-4 with an RBI, while Mitchell had a double, home run and four runs batted in. Moore drove in three runs in the win.
On Friday, Mitchell and classmate Walker Byrd paced GCHS with three hits each. Junior Dylan Miller also came up big with two RBIs, which was plenty for junior pitcher Drake Henderson, who went the distance to earn the win. Henderson gave up just four hits and struck out 15 Cougars in a dominating performance.
On Saturday, Moore and Miller had two RBIs apiece to pace GCHS to an 8-0 win on the road. Brantley Smith and Malachi Graham also drove in runs, while freshman Connor West tossed five and two-thirds innings to earn the win. West struck out seven, scattered four hits and gave up just one walk along the way.
Chatham bragged on the toughness of the younger West, but also poured out a bit of praise for his group of seniors.
“Noah has been on fire for us at the plate and that has been a big key for us to get him going like that,” Chatham said. “And, Garrett has been huge since returning to the batting order. He could be cleared to play defense later this week as well.”
“Kenny (Moore) has been steady for us too. As a team, we’ve been much better at cutting down on strikeouts and putting the ball in play.”
Both games against Poplarville are slated for a first pitch around 6:30 p.m., immediately after junior varsity action, which is set to start at 4:30.
On the ladies’ side, the matchups with Purvis and Sumrall are set for 6:30 p.m. with JV action leading things off each night at 5.