Tuesday night was a late one for the West Jones Mustangs, whose Game 1 against Vancleave was delayed for more than an hour by rain and extended past 10 p.m. They slept well, however, after the watchful eyes of freshman Hudson Pierce caught a mishap at third base that helped seal a 4-3 victory at Mustang Field.
The game was originally set to begin at 7 p.m., but a lengthy downpour that rolled in around 6:45 kept both teams sidelined until the Round 3 series opener began around 8:15. Another large home crowd seemed unfazed by the delay, as did the Mustangs, who head coach Trey Sutton said did a great job of remaining loose and ready to roll whenever their opportunity came.
“Weather happens. That’s nothing new in baseball,” Sutton said. “Luckily, we didn’t get out here and then have it start raining. We just kind of hung out in the locker room for a little longer than we typically would have. The kids did a good job of staying locked in and not allowing the weather to affect their readiness to play.
“Once we got everything going, it was just business as usual.”
Both teams struggled to make contact at the plate through the first three innings. The Bulldogs did find themselves in prime position to strike first in the bottom of the second, loading the bases after three walks in the inning, but seasoned senior Lawson Odom worked his way out of the jam with poise, striking out two and drawing a ground-out at second base to retire the side with no runs allowed.
Perhaps motivated by his impressive second-inning showing, Odom went on to pitch six scoreless innings, striking out 12 and allowing only two hits. Sutton said he was proud of the senior’s bounce-back performance but never doubted his ability to make a huge impact on the ballgame.
“He threw really, really well. He did not have a good outing last Friday night at (Pearl River Central),” Sutton recalled from the Round 2 road game. “He strugged a little bit that night, but that’s a senior on the mound, and he responded really well tonight. Other than that second inning, he was in command all evening, and he threw a really great game for us.”
West Jones’ bats started coming alive in the bottom of the fourth. With two outs and a 3-1 count, senior Kelton Hosey blasted a line drive over the left-field wall for a two-RBI home run to lift the Mustangs ahead.
After three consecutive strikeouts by Odom in the top of the fifth, the fireworks continued for the Mustangs with another home run by junior Camden Clark, a solo shot over right field to extend the lead to 3-0.
They added more cushion in the bottom of the sixth, when Dakota Smith hit a single to deep left field that allowed Bergin Bullock to score from first base, a run that would ultimately become much more important than they’d imagined.
An infield error by the Mustangs kickstarted a late rally for the Bulldogs in the top of the seventh. A single and a double in consecutive plate appearances led to their first run of the evening with one out on the board. The following batter was hit by a pitch, and then an RBI single made it 4-2, with the winning run for Vancleave on first base.
“We went to Kale (Matthews), who’s been our guy in the back end all year, and his numbers have been great, so I still feel like we made the right decision on that,” Sutton said of the pitching change. “Some nights you just don’t have it, and that’s just a part of the game.”
After a pitching change to Jaxon Rayborn, the Bulldogs mustered one last hit that appeared to tie the game as a two-RBI single, but the attentive freshman Pierce made a game-saving play without even touching the field.
As the Bulldogs were celebrating what would’ve been the game-tying run with one out, Pierce yelled to his teammates on the field that the baserunner never touched third. Odom, who had been moved to shortstop, trotted over to touch the bag, which the umpire signaled as the second out of the inning.
Sutton said he hopes the bizarre ending serves as an important lesson for his players as they move forward in the postseason and their careers. The obvious first lesson would be to make sure you always touch the bag. The second would be that attention to detail matters, even when you’re in the dugout.
“We talk to our kids all the time about the fact that, even if you’re not in the game, you’re still a part of the game, so you need to be locked in and paying attention to what’s going on.
“That was big. That ended up kind of being the winning play in a sense. Really proud of Hudson there for paying attention to detail and making a heads-up call for his teammates.”
After the appeal at third, Rayborn drew a ground ball to Odom at shortstop, who delivered it on foot to second base for the fielder’s choice out to end the contest.
Clark was a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate, with an RBI and a run from his fifth-inning homer. Hosey finished 1-for-3 with a team-high two RBIs and a run, and Bullock scored two runs as the Mustangs defended their home field and leaped ahead 1-0 in the series.
Game 2 of the series will be played at Vancleave on Friday, with the first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m.
With a win, the Mustangs can punch their ticket to the Class 5A South State championship, which will be played against the winner between Picayune and East Central.
If necessary, a Game 3 will be scheduled for Saturday at Mustang Field to determine which team will advance.
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