Oak Grove readies for Round 3 date with St. Martin

By CAMAL PETRO,

For the seventh time in the last eight seasons, the Oak Grove Warriors are gearing up for a third-round series in the 6A baseball playoffs. Their best-of-three series with the St. Martin Yellowjackets begins Thursday, and is coming on the heels of a sweep of Harrison Central in the second round. 

St. Martin (23-6), meanwhile, made quick work of Pearl last week with wins of 11-1 and 12-5. Game 1 between Oak Grove and the Yellowjackets is set for Thursday night at St. Martin, with Game 2 scheduled for Friday night at Oak Grove. Both game times are 7 p.m. first pitches, and if necessary, Game 3 will be back at St. Martin at the same time Saturday.

The Warriors are coming off a sweep of the Red Rebels where they hit a walk-off in Game 1 then won by nine runs in Game 2. Oak Grove trailed 3-1 in the seventh inning, but it rallied to win 4-3 after a John Rhys Plumlee walk-off single.

Oak Grove was one pitch away from going down 1-0 in the series and potentially playing a Game 3 Monday instead of the Friday-Saturday sweep.

“We’ve been in some situations during the year where we’ve been behind a few runs,” Oak Grove coach Chris McCardle said. “We always talk about it being a seven-inning game and we try to keep the score close if we do get behind. They opened the door and gave us a little momentum. We kept fighting and ended up pulling it out.”

On the mound, Oak Grove got solid pitching performances from starters Luke Lyon and Turner Swistak against Harrison Central. Lyon has been solid all season, and Swistak has as well when he’s healthy. He didn’t pitch for nearly a month due to tendonitis in his shoulder.

“He’s getting back to where he needs to be, but he’s not quite there yet,” McCardle said. “He and Luke have done a good job for us all year. They’re going to keep us in the game. They’re guys we’re counting on to get us deep in the game to help us save the bullpen in a three-game series.”

In 27.2 innings, Swistak has a 1.52 earned run average, and he allowed just two hits last week to Harrison Central, but he did walk six in his five innings. Lyon leads the Warriors with 51.1 innings logged, and he has a 2.59 ERA with 78 strikeouts to just 22 walks. He struck out six and allowed just two earned runs in his outing against the Red Rebels.

On the flip side, St. Martin seniors Leif Moore and Leo Harris have been dominant on the bump this season. Moore leads the Yellowjackets with a 0.62 ERA and a 9-0 record in 56 innings this season. He’s also recorded a staggering amount of strikeouts with 99 while only walking six batters. Harris is 4-4 with a 2.51 ERA in 53 innings, and he’s struck out 62 and only walked 11.

“It’s 6A baseball, and it’s what you expect at this point of the playoffs with four teams left in the south,” McCardle said. “You don’t get here without having good guys on the mound, and of course, they’re no different than the other teams.”

Offensively, St. Martin has a .325 team batting average and five batters with more than 100 plate appearances have averages better than .300. St. Martin is senior heavy, but freshman Dane Dutil has a team-high .413 average along with 35 RBI and 23 runs. Senior Brennen Study is second on the team with a .405 average and a .523 on-base percentage.

“I knew coming in that they were going to be good, and I knew they had a lot of guys with a lot of experience,” McCardle said. “They’re solid on defense, they have some guys who can swing the bat and a good ace. This time of year when there are four teams left, everybody is going to be good. We know they’ll be ready to play.”