PURVIS – It’s become a free-for-all in Region 7-4A, with one week of region play remaining and four teams contending for two playoff spots.
That number includes both Greene County and Purvis after the Wildcats defeated the Tornadoes 5-2 Friday afternoon at the Purvis Baseball Field, returning the favor after Purvis won Tuesday’s meeting 5-0 at Leakesville.
The Tornadoes (11-8 overall) dropped to 4-4 in region play, in third place in the standings, while Greene County (10-10) kept its hopes alive at 3-5 in the region.
Next week’s games should sort things out, as Purvis has two games against second-place Poplarville, the Wildcats have a pair with Forrest County AHS, which is out contention, and region-leading Sumrall faces Lawrence County, which is also in the postseason mix.
“We’re still playing for second place,” said Purvis coach Tony Farlow. “I don’t know if we’ve got to sweep (Poplarville) to finish second. But I think everything is still wide-open from second through fifth.
“Give Greene County credit; their backs were against the wall, and they came ready to play. Some things just didn’t go our way.”
With their season on the line, the Wildcats turned to their ace, junior left-hander Drake Henderson, and he was up to the task, despite surrendering seven hits and four walks.
“We had opportunities,” Farlow said. “But it seemed like he bowed up every time we got men on base, and we couldn’t get a key hit when we needed one.”
Henderson (3-2) struck out five and got three double plays on fly balls in the infield that caught Tornado runners off base, including the final pitch in the game, when Purvis had two runners on and the tying run at the plate.
“He had a really good change-up,” said Purvis senior Mason Kendrick. “He was mixing it up and keeping it off the plate on the outside corners. It kept us off-balance, and we couldn’t get the timely hits. That’s been hurting us lately.”
Henderson helped himself in the top of the first inning off Purvis starter Dakota Lee (4-3), stroking a run-scoring double into the left-field corner.
The Tornadoes got that run back in the bottom of the second, when senior Parker Sharff led off with a single, went to second on a walk, took third on a sacrifice and scored when the Wildcats bobbled a double-play ball off the bat of senior Dawson Lawler.
But Henderson got a flair to second base that led to a double play to get out of the inning, after getting an inning-ending strikeout with runners on second and third in the first.
Greene County took the lead for good, scoring two unearned runs in the third after Purvis couldn’t field a pair of double-play balls, either one of which would have gotten Lee out of the inning unscathed.
Lee, a junior right-hander, allowed seven hits in four innings, struck out four and walked two.
“They had a couple of balls that got through the middle on us, then we had a couple of chances to turn a double play to get out of the inning, and it didn’t happen,” said Farlow. “But I thought, overall, Lee pitched pretty well.”
Greene County added two more runs in the fourth, but the Tornadoes cut the margin to 5-2 in the fifth, when Kendrick singled leading off, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Lee.
The Wildcats opened the sixth inning by loading the bases with none out, but Kendrick came on in relief, induced a home-to-first double-play and got the Tornadoes out of the inning with a groundout to first.
“My team needed me in that situation,” said Kendrick. “I just had to come in, throw strikes and let my defense make plays behind me.”
Kendrick retired Greene County in order with three strikeouts in the seventh, and Purvis had two runners on with one out in the bottom of the seventh, when Henderson got a third double play to subdue the Tornadoes once and for all.
Purvis will play at Poplarville on Tuesday, then the two teams will play Friday at Purvis. Greene County will face FCAHS at Brooklyn on Tuesday, then will host the Aggies on Friday.
“Next week is a big week for us, so we need to get after in practice and be ready to play,” said Kendrick.
Follow Stan Caldwell’s work at stanmansportsfan.com.