St. Martin evens 6A third-round series with Oak GroveBy STAN CALDWELL,
OAK GROVE – This time there was no late-inning magic for Oak Grove. Indeed, there was no magic at all.
With a chance to sweep the Class 6A third round series against St. Martin at home, the Warriors came out flat, as the Yellow Jackets defeated the Warriors 6-2 Friday night at Harry Breland Field.
The loss for Oak Grove (22-8) evened the best-of-three game series at 1-1, with the deciding game scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at St. Martin, which improved to 24-7 overall.
“I thought we were very, very flat,” said Oak Grove coach Chris McCardle. “There was some game hangover from last night, I felt like. We just weren’t in it like we were last night, and their guy just dominated the strike zone.”
It would have been hard to match the intensity of Thursday night’s 6-3 Oak Grove victory, which featured almost as many fireworks between the coaches off the field as there were dramatic moments between the white lines.
But it was visitors from St. Martin that showed most of the fire on Friday, especially from senior Leo Harris, who baffled the Warriors on the mound, and contributed two singles and scored three runs on offense.
“He mixed a lot of fastballs and change-ups, with a couple of curveballs,” said senior Alex Bolling, who had two singles and drove in a run for Oak Grove.
“It was just one of those nights. Sometimes you come out, you feel great, the juices are flowing, you’re hitting balls everywhere in batting practice, then you come out in a game and they just don’t fall for you. We hit a lot of balls hard tonight but didn’t get the results we wanted.”
Harris got St. Martin started in the top of the first inning, smacking a leadoff single off Warrior starter Turner Swistak. The Warriors then got two outs, but Yellow Jacket clean-up hitter Leif Moore blasted a double to the fence in right-center field to give St. Martin a 1-0 lead.
“I left one up to Leo, who’s a very good hitter, and he took advantage of it,” said Swistak, a junior right-hander. “Same thing happened with the 4-hole hitter. I left a 1-2 pitch up; it was supposed to be off the plate, and he made me pay for it.”
Swistak (4-2) settled down and kept the Warriors in the game, but sloppy defense allowed St. Martin to extend the lead to 2-0 in the fifth.
Harris drew a walk to lead off, then R. J. Fletcher singled. Swistak got two strikeouts, but a pop-up that would have ended the inning was dropped, and Harris scored from second.
“I thought Swistak did a good job, kept us in the game,” said McCardle. “But when you make a bunch of errors and walk people, most times you’re not going to win at this point in the playoffs.”
And that was just how the Yellow Jackets broke it open in the sixth, scoring four runs on two hits, two walks and a pair of errors. Harris drove in a run with a single, Fletcher followed with a two-run double and Moore drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.
For most of the game, Harris (5-4) kept the Warriors off-balance. He allowed six hits, struck out seven and walked one. The only time he was in any trouble at all came in the bottom of the sixth, when Oak Grove scored both of its runs.
With one out, senior DeeJay Booth singled, senior Kade Shannon drew a walk and Bolling drove in Booth with a single.
Senior Cade Cuevas came tantalizingly close to a three-run home run, but the ball was caught at the fence in left-center field for a sacrifice fly that scored Shannon from third.
Harris then got a strikeout to end the Warrior threat, and retied Oak Grove in order in the seventh with two strikeouts and an infield pop-up.
McCardle was undecided about his Game 3 starter, but said he has some quality options to choose from.
“We made sure we had some good guys ready for (Saturday),” said McCardle. “We’ve got Kris Jones available. We’ve got the two guys who pitched tonight (Rhett Blackburn and Ty Scott in relief) and we’ve got Parker Harrington, who hasn’t thrown yet in this series.
“We’ve got a lot of fight left in us. We’ll regroup and we’ll be ready for tomorrow.”
For more of Stan Caldwell’s work, check out stanmansportsfan.com.