PERKINSTON — No. 4 Pearl River extended its regular season success against archrival Gulf Coast to six straight victories Tuesday with a sweep at Ken “Curly” Farris Field. The Wildcats (22-5 overall, 7-3 MACJC) slugged their way to a 6-1 victory over the No. 18 Bulldogs (17-7, 9-3) in Game 1 and then got a gem of a performance on the mound from Miles Smith (Laurel; Northeast Jones) to claim a 6-3 victory in Game 2.
The Wildcats have had MGCCC’s number the last couple years. After splitting in 2016, PRCC has swept the regular season series in each of the last three years, counting Tuesday; the only blemish is a Region XXIII Tournament loss last season.
“Anytime you come to Perkinston and walk out of here with a sweep it’s a good day for the Wildcats and a proud day. That’s something our guys know,” Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said. “We knew coming in here it would be tough and a battle. I was very proud we led from start to finish.
“We have some things we have to do a lot better, but you have to understand this is two quality teams with a lot of energy and excitement going at each other. I was proud of how we handled that and played hard. You can see that on the scoreboard.
GAME 1: PRCC 6, MGCCC 1
Avalon received a complete game effort from his Wildcats in Game 1 as PRCC turned several double plays, got strong pitching and found the timely hits to string together six runs.
Gulf Coast looked like it might be the first on the scoreboard in the fourth inning. The Bulldogs loaded the bases before registering an out, but starter Reid Reynolds (Heidelberg; Northeast Jones) got a big strikeout and then Dexter Jordan (Hattiesburg) turned a double play to clear the bases and escape the inning unscathed.
PRCC turned around and put up a three-spot in the top of the fifth. Noah Barron (Hoover, Ala.) led off the frame with his fourth homer of the season, clearing the center field wall. Matt Taylor (Raleigh) later singled in his high school teammate, Shemar Page (Raleigh), and a groundout from Austen Izzio (Carriere; Pearl River Central) plated the Wildcats’ third run.
MGCCC broke through in the sixth with a single run and it could have been worse but relievers Wes Starr (Auburn, Ala.) and Jerod Meggs (Kosciusko) slammed the door on the Bulldogs. With two runners in scoring position Starr got a big strikeout before turning the game over to Meggs, who induced a comebacker on his second pitch to get out of the jam.
Pearl River took advantage of a pair of defensive blunders by Gulf Coast in the eighth, scoring two runs on a bases loaded walk from Page and a Reece Ewing (Mobile, Ala.; Faith Academy) groundout.
Gulf Coast again loaded the bases in the eighth after the officials overturned an out call at third but Meggs earned a strikeout and then induced a grounder to first base to avoid trouble.
After having his defensive play overturned in the previous frame Izzio clobbered a no-doubter over the left field wall to tack on an insurance run.
“I think what you saw out of Izzio tonight is I think you saw him grow up,” Avalon said. “I saw his older brother (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) Anthony Izzio challenge him after the mistake in the field in Game 1 but he stepped up. That was a big hit for us and a big hit for him.”
Taylor, Izzio and Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison) all had two hits for PRCC, with the former WHHS Hurricane and Ewing tallying doubles. Izzio led the Wildcats with two RBIs.
The play-by-play doesn’t quite do justice to Reynolds’ performance. Making his first start of the season, Reynolds overcame some early jitters to go a season-long 5 1/3 innings. Reynolds allowed one run on eight hits and a walk while striking out two to earn his second win of the season.
“He did a great job pitching at the bottom of the zone. He pitched to contact and we played great defense behind him. He got a lot of early swings and ground balls and that was the plan,” Avalon said. “They’re an aggressive team and we used that to our advantage.
“He told me last week he wanted the baseball and when guys tell you that, you trust them.”
Meggs earned the save, striking out three against two hits in 3 1/3 scoreless innings — one out shy of tying his season-long.
“He has continued to mature and be consistent,” Avalon said. “He’s a big time piece in our bullpen. We have to have him.”
GAME 2: PRCC 6, MGCCC 3
Pearl River once again opened the scoring in the nightcap, plating two runs in the first off of a chopper from Donaldson and a Barron sacrifice fly.
MGCCC responded in the bottom of the inning with a single run, but Pearl River pushed their lead back out to 3-1 in the second when Taylor scored from first on a perfectly timed hit-and-run by Izzio that ended up finding the alley and going for a double.
The Bulldogs hit a solo homer in the bottom half of the second to get back within one, 3-2.
On a day where PRCC made a handful of web gems, perhaps none was bigger than Barron’s to end the third. The New Orleans signee read the ball well off the bat, catching the liner at the warning track before tumbling into the wall, robbing a Bulldog of extra bases.
“You saw a lot of bigtime plays made defensively tonight. That’s something that’s taken for granted because in baseball everyone wants the home run,” Avalon said. “That’s something we do a lot of but tonight we made some big plays in crucial moments.”
Jordan led off the fifth with a blast over the left field wall for his eighth homer of the season. The Wildcats later worked the bases loaded and scored on a walk from Ewing — Gulf Coast’s third consecutive free base — to extend their lead to 5-2.
Gulf Coast got one run back in the bottom of the fifth on a sacrifice fly but the Wildcats nailed a Bulldog base runner trying to take second on the play to end the threat.
Smith had been exceptional to that point but the South Alabama commit clamped down in the final two innings. Smith struck out the side in the sixth and although the first two batters reached in the seventh on an error and walk, Smith buckled down and fanned the next three Bulldogs to secure the sweep and earn his fourth victory in the process.
“You saw a young man tonight put us on his shoulders with 12 strikeouts. That speaks for itself against a quality team,” Avalon said. “All week we talked to him about wanting it and there was no doubt tonight he wanted it.”
Smith allowed three runs (two earned) to score while scattering five hits and two walks throughout the complete game effort.
“This win is a big confidence booster and I feel like it’s going to be the start of something,” Smith said. “This was a big win with them leading the conference. If we want to win another state championship, we’re going to have to beat teams like this.”
Taylor and Izzio led PRCC with three hits apiece; Izzio’s double was the lone extra-base hit outside of Jordan’s homer. Magruder O’Bannon (Gulfport; St. Stanislaus) also tallied two singles.
Pearl River will conclude its three-game road swing through the MACJC on Saturday with a 1 p.m. doubleheader at Mississippi Delta. PRCC returns to The Dub on Wednesday, April 10 for a 3 p.m. doubleheader against East Central.
The latest slew of national rankings have been released for the week. Pearl River climbed one spot in the NJCAA’s Division II poll to No. 4, remained at No. 2 in Noah Sharp’s JUCO Baseball Blog DII Top 25, No. 3 in Prep Baseball Report’s DII Top 20 and No. 17 in Perfect Game’s Top 25, which combines all divisions.