Behind Rascoe, Hattiesburg takes 1-0 lead in 5A State Championship series

By CAMAL PETRO,

PEARL – The Hattiesburg Tigers were the first to throw a curveball in Game 1 of the 5A State Championship. Instead of throwing their ace, senior Dexter Jordan, Hattiesburg went with junior Landon Rascoe.

And it worked.

The Tigers jumped up early and held on for a 9-5 win over the Lewisburg Patriots to take a 1-0 series lead in the championship series. They’ll look to sweep the series Thursday at 1 p.m. inside Trustmark Park in Pearl. 

PHOTO GALLERY: Click for photos from Matt Bush.

“Landon did a great job,” Hattiesburg coach Joe Hartfield said. “I don’t think they had a hit until the fourth or fifth inning. If he could have kept a little bit more control, he might have been able to finish it. He gave us a quality start and we’re proud of him. What can I say? He just did a great job.”

It wasn’t like Hartfield had this planned the entire time, though. He asked Jordan earlier in the day how his arm felt after pitching 101 pitches last Thursday in Game 1 against West Jones, and when Hartfield didn’t get a good answer from Jordan, he decided to go with Rascoe.

SIDEBAR: The Hattiesburg bats won't be intimidated by any pitcher.

“I came in the locker room and he told me to tell him how I feel, and my arm has been tender,” Jordan recalled. “Just end of the season tendinitis. Landon wanted the ball and I knew he had it. He’s been asking for the ball all year. I told him to get the ball and do what you got to do.”

PODCAST: Pulling back the curtain from Hattiesburg Game 1 win

Rascoe learned of his start while eating lunch a few hours prior to the game. While he was filling up on Berry’s Seafood, he started to get into the mindset of starting the biggest game of his life.

“For me, I just put my headphones on and get in my zone,” Rascoe said of how he locks in. “I know what I got to do.”

Rascoe entered the night with a 4.58 earned run average and a 2-2 record, but that didn’t matter on the biggest stage of Mississippi high school baseball. He finished Thursday night’s contest with an impressive final line. He pitched four-plus innings of one-hit ball while giving up two runs – one earned – with three strikeouts and four walks.

“I’ve never played in the state championship before,” Rascoe said. “It was a good experience. It feels really good.

“What was working was my fastball for the most part. I had a little movement to it, so it was keeping them off-balanced and they weren’t squaring it that well.”

The only hit he allowed was the final pitch he threw, which was a two-RBI double that scored two base runners who reached after being plunked by Rascoe. Lewisburg had batters reach base in prior innings because of walks, but it was the first time it got on the board, cutting Hattiesburg’s lead to 9-2.

The Patriots added a run in the sixth inning to make it a 9-3 ballgame, then three more in the seventh before Hartfield couldn’t take it anymore. He decided to go with his ace to get the final out.

“Man, I’m on ibuprofen right now,” Jordan said with a laugh when asked how his arm felt after the last out. “I mean, it still hurts a little bit but at this time, I’ll never pitch again in high school. Whatever it takes, that’s what I’ll do to win.”

Hartfield said his Game 2 starter is still unknown, but Jordan and senior A.J. Stinson are his two options.

Offensively, the Tigers collected 11 hits from eight different batters to score the nine runs against Lewisburg’s starter Bryce Brock, a Mississippi State signee.

“We came out swinging the bats, hitting the ball well one through nine,” Hartfield said. “I certainly didn’t expect to hit that well, but I’m very glad that we did and very proud of the guys. They came focused today, they had good plate approaches. Brock is a good pitcher, obviously, but we just had a good approach against him today.

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