By STEVE SWOGETINSKY
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, sophomore pinch hitter Rhett Stovall bunted in the winning run to lift Neshoba Central past defending state champion Saltillo 3-2 and send the Rockets on to the Class 5A state championship series.
It was the third game of the North State championship series. Saltillo won the first game on Friday night at Neshoba Central, 6-3. The Rockets came back in the second game to defeat Saltillo 10-8. Neshoba Central’s Monday victory puts the Rockets in the championship state for the first time in school history.
With the bases loaded, the game was Neshoba Central’s to win and Coach Jonathan Jones made his move.
“I went over and asked Rhett and another kid which one can get the bunt down?” Jones said. “Stovall said, ‘Coach, I got you.’ And he did. He has been in a lot of pressure situations over the years and he does the job. He did a tremendous job getting the ball down.”
Stovall’s fielder’s choice brought in Will Williams from third and the game was over.
The game was played before a standing room only crowded as fans paced the stands and behind the outfield.
“It was an unbelievable crowd,” Jones said. “I don’t know how many people we had but there was nowhere left for you to sit or stand, in the infield or the outfield. It’s just a testament to Neshoba Central fans. They come out and support you anyway they can. It was an awesome atmosphere and I think we played better because of that.”
The Rockets now stand at 30-5. At this writing, the South State championship had not been decided. Van Cleave and East Central were tied 1-1 and the final game was to be played Tuesday night.
“We will have to see how it turns out,” Jones said. “I know that the 5A games will be played next Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I am not sure about the times.”
Saltillo scored four runs in the top of the 11th inning to win the first game of the series.
Saltillo scores one run in the top of the first inning. The Rockets scored one in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game at 1-1. Both teams scored a run in the 10th inning and the score was 2-2 into the 11th inning. Saltillo scored four runs in the top of the 11th. The Rockets answered with one run and the Tigers to the victory.
Neshoba Central’s pitchers struck out 18 Tiger batters. Jesse Hancock pitched the first 6.2 inning and struck out 12 batters. Sanders Griffis pitched the remainder of the game and took the loss. He struck out six batters.
Reid Hall hit a double and a single and scored a run. Jordan Davis hit a double and knocked in a run. Garrett Martin and Brayden Reynolds both had a hit. Bryceton Spencer scored a run.
Neshoba Central took the lead in the top of the seventh and then held off a Saltillo rally to win the second game on the Tigers’ field and tied the series.
Saltillo took the early lead as they scored one in the first, two in the second and two in the third. Neshoba scored one run in the third and added four runs in the top of the sixth to tie the game at 5-5.
Pepper Agent brought in the winning run with a sacrifice bunt. The Rockets scored five in the top of the seventh to make the score 10-5. Saltillo scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh. With one out and the tying run at the plate, Azaynlon Hickman went to the mound and got the final two outs to preserve the Rockets’ victory.
Reid Hall started the game on the mound and went two innings. Stovall pitched the next 4.1 innings and was the winning pitcher. He allowed six hits and struck out six.
Demarkez West has three hits, scored one run and knocked in another. Reid Hall had two hits and knocked in three runs. Jordan Davis, Will Williams and RB Harris all had a single. Bryceton Spencer had two hits, scored two runs and knocked in two runs. Braydon Reynolds had two hits, scored on run and knocked in another.
Neshoba Central continued to roll as they defeated Saltillo in the third game.
The Tigers scored both of their runs on solo home runs, the first coming in the top of the first and the second came in the top of the sixth. Neshoba Central scored one in the bottom of the fourth, one in the bottom of the sixth and the walk off in the bottom of the seventh.
Eight grader Will Garner started and when 5.2 innings. Hickman came on to end the sixth inning with a strike out. Then Hall came in for the seventh inning and struck out two batters to claim the win in relief.
Saltillo outhit Neshoba Central 6-5. Hall had two hits and scored one run. RB, Hardin had two hits. Williams had one hit and scored a run. Creed Fulton scored.