’Stangs celebrate

West Jones players storm the field at Pearl River Central after the final out to clinch the South State championship and earn a trip to Pearl to play for the Class 5A title.

CARRIERE — West Jones batters kept cranking out the hits and West Jones pitchers kept opposing batters out of rhythm as they completed the sweep of Pearl River Central, 8-3, for the South State championship on Friday night.

Walker Thompson went 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs, Kelton Keene went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and Cole Tolbert went 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI to lead the Mustangs (27-5), who had 12 hits in Game 2 of the series. 

Senior southpaw Kris Riley struggled with his control at times, but he shut down the Blue Devils, striking out nine and allowing only one hit in 6-2/3 innings. He walked six — two of them intentional — and hit four batters. Left-hander Luke Leggett faced the final two batters to close out the game, setting off a long-awaited celebration with his teammates.

The scoring started early for the Soso squad. Leadoff man Thompson reached base on an error and, after a single by Colson Harris, he scored when Garrett McLaurin reached base on an error at third with two outs to give WJ a 1-0 lead.

In the fourth, Thompson delivered a two-out, two run double to center after  Keene walked and Adam Bassett was hit by a pitch to set the table. 

With a 3-0 lead, the Mustangs erupted for four runs in the fifth after the middle and bottom of the order went on a tear with five consecutive singles. Riley and McLaurin got things started with one out, then Tolbert, Keene and Bassett had back-to-back-to-back RBI singles before PRC pulled starter Austin Diebold. When freshman Justin Robinson replaced him on the mound, Logan Kelly reached base on an error, then Thompson’s sacrifice fly to right brought in the final run of the big inning to make it 7-0.

Keene’s two-out bloop single that dropped just inside the left-field line scored Harris — who was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning — to make it 8-0 in the sixth.

With the WJ players in the dugout set to storm the field, the Blue Devils (23-13) — who won the state championship in 2017 — proved to be a tough out. A walk, a hit batsman, then a free pass to Dunhurst loaded the bases. 

Riley then got his second strikeout of the inning, but he walked in a run and Leggett came in with the bases loaded and two outs. Austin Dean got a two-run single, but Leggett then got DH Robert Shoemake to tap a comebacker and he tossed to Harris at first for the final out.

The Mustangs combined for three home runs in Game 1 in Soso to win 8-1. They will play the winner of the North State championship series between Lafayette County (19-9-1) and Saltillo (22-11-2) for the state title at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Lafayette won the opening game 6-5.

State championship series were set to start Tuesday, with Game 1 of the 5A series starting at 7 p.m. But rain has postponed nine of the 12 South/North State championship series across the state, so the schedule of the state championship series is not known. 

(Look for more coverage in Tuesday’s print edition)

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