POPLARVILLE, Miss. — It may sound funny to say a team had to battle when it out-scored its opponent 16-6 in a doubleheader, but that’s exactly what happened Saturday as No. 5 Pearl River swept Northeast to open its MACJC schedule.
Under mostly overcast skies and with the wind blowing out of Dub Herring Park, the Wildcats run-ruled the Tigers 9-1 in eight innings to open the series and then had to hang on for a 7-5 victory in Game 2.
“Those weren’t the prettiest wins but they sure were beautiful,” Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said. “We’re going to be thankful for them but we know we can get a lot better — even through winning. That’s something we want to make sure they understand.
“Even though we’re successful on the scoreboard, to continue that success we have to get better and understand that we have to get better. That acceptance is big.”
GAME 1: PRCC 9, NEMCC 1 (8 inn.)
Starter Shemar Page (Raleigh) had another typical outing for PRCC (15-2 overall, 2-0 MACJC). The Louisiana Tech signee struck out 10 against one run on four hits in six innings before turning the game over to Jerod Meggs (Kosiusko) for the final two frames.
“I pitched against them last year so I had a pretty good feel for what they were going to try and do,” Page said. “They’re big guys who try and run the ball out of the yard, so I knew if I was able to locate I’d have a good day.”
The Tigers’ lone run in the seventh was the first earned run Page has surrendered all season. As if pitching lights out wasn’t enough, Page also hit a homer in Game 2.
“That’s Shemar Page for you. He gives you a chance to win every time he steps on the mound; just like Miles does,” Avalon said. “He has also started to swing the bat the last couple of weeks. You can tell he’s seeing the ball really well.”
The Wildcats didn’t waste any time scoring in Game 1, plating two runs on a Noah Barron (Hoover, Ala.) double.
Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison) hit the first of four PRCC homers on the day to lead off the sixth. A RBI single from Luke Harper (Meridian; Northeast Lauderdale) and an error off the bat of Austen Izzio (Carriere; Pearl River Central) later in the frame built a 4-0 advantage for the homestanding Wildcats.
Britt McKay (Wiggins; Ocean Springs) belted a two-run homer in the seventh and Wiley Cleland (Columbia; Columbia Academy) doubled in the walk-off run in the eighth.
Because PRCC and NEMCC were scheduled to play a nine inning game followed by a seven inning game, an eight-run lead after eight ends the game.
Every starter reached base for Pearl River, led by Izzio’s three hits — including his first collegiate triple. Matt Taylor (Raleigh) and Reece Ewing (Mobile, Ala.; Faith Academy) had two hits.
GAME 2: PRCC 7, NEMCC 5
Game 2 looked like it might be a duplicate of the first game after Pearl River built a 4-0 lead through four innings, but the Tigers (10-8, 0-2) scrapped back and made the Wildcats hold on.
Page led off the third with his second homer of the season and Barron followed it up with a two-run shot to give Pearl River the early 3-0 advantage.
“That’s one of our strengths and something we recruit for,” Avalon said of the team’s four homers. “We put a lot of time in the weight room. This was the first time all year at home the wind was blowing out so it was good to see some guys have good swings.
Taylor doubled in a run in the fourth to push PRCC ahead 4-0. NEMCC added two runs in the fifth but the Wildcats countered with three runs in the bottom of the frame thanks to back-to-back doubles from Dexter Jordan (Hattiesburg) and Ewing, plus an error that allowed Ewing to come around and score.
The Tigers proved to be resilient, plating three more runs in the top of the sixth. It looked like the visitors might push across more runs but after walking the first batter he faced to load the bases Trenton Lee (Picayune) induced a fly out to Barron in right field.
Lee worked around another walk in the seventh to preserve the victory.
“We went to Trenton for one reason. The kid’s got heart,” Avalon said. “Pearl River is in his blood and you can bet when he steps on the bump he’s going to give you everything he’s got. He stepped up when we needed him to.”
Smith allowed two runs on two hits and five walks while also striking out five in five innings.
“I think Miles let his guard down a little bit and if we replayed that inning it would be very different,” Avalon said of Smith’s three walks in the fifth inning. “He’s one of our veterans. He’ll learn from it and make the necessary adjustments.”
Jordan was PRCC’s lone batter with multiple hits — two — in Game 2. Barron led PRCC with two RBIs.
The Wildcats continue MACJC play on Tuesday with a 3 p.m. doubleheader at Copiah-Lincoln. After another road trip to Itawamba on Saturday, the Wildcats return to The Dub on March 26 to play Nunez.