PEARL — The hit parade continued for West Jones, and now the Mustangs are one win away from bringing home a state championship. They play Lafayette in Game 2 at 7 p.m. Thursday.
In the first trip to the title game for the program, the WJ players looked like veterans — especially the only sophomore batter in the starting lineup.
Cole Tolbert went 4-for-4, including a run-scoring triple to deep right-center in sprawling Trustmark Park in the four-run first inning Wednesday afternoon, as the Mustangs (28-5) pounded Lafayette County 10-1 in Game 1 of the Class 5A state championship series. They cranked out 16 hits and Dustin Dickerson struck out 13 to get their seventh straight postseason win.
“In an environment like this, it’s always good to jump out early,” WJ coach Trey Sutton said. “It lets the dugout relax a little when you get some runs early and it gave Dustin a cushion.”
But Sutton doesn’t consider a 1-0 series lead to be a cushion. That’s why he’s emphasizing to his players that they stay intense and focused.
“The job’s not done yet,” he said. “There’s been times when teams have lost the first game and came back and won two. We’ve got to focus on the fact that the job’s not done. We’ve got to come back out and play good baseball and see where we end up.”
Colson Harris went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. He drove in the first run of the game with a single to left after leadoff man Walker Thompson (3-for-5, RBI) singled up the middle and starting pitcher Dustin Dickerson followed with a single to left. Garrett McLaurin also drove in a run with a groundout and another run scored on a Kelton Keene hot-shot to first that was mishandled.
The Mustangs were careful not to celebrate too much, too early, though, and stay focused for Thursday’s game.
“We’ve got to come out here and act like it’s Game 1 again, no matter what,” Tolbert said. “They could come out and have two good games, so we’ve got to have another good one.”
The Commodores (19-10), playing their third game in three days after going to Game 3 in a rain-delayed series with Saltillo that concluded late Tuesday night, committed five errors.
Coach John Walker downplayed his team’s brutal stretch over the last few days, though.
“If you’re going to be a state champion, you’ve got to overcome that kind of stuff,” he said. “These are 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kids. They’re not tired. If you can’t get up and be ready for this, then you’ve got bigger problems.”
The Mustangs’ bats had a lot to do with their opponent’s misplays in the field. They put the ball in play in just about every at-bat, combining for six strikeouts and one walk against the depleted pitching staff.
But the plate wasn’t just a launching pad for the ’Stangs.
Logan Kelly (2-for-4) and Thompson started the second inning with back-to-back bunt singles and Harris ripped a two-out run-scoring single up the middle to make it 5-0.
McLaurin walked to start the third and Tolbert and Keene singled to load the bases for catcher Adam Bassett, who smacked a two-run single to right field to make it 7-0 and chase sophomore starter Wilson Varner. When junior Chase Parks took the field, it was more of the same. Thompson hit an RBI single and Dickerson followed with a sacrifice fly to center to make it 9-0.
Lafayette’s lone run came in the home half of the third, on an RBI single to left field by freshman Titus Williams. That was set up when Parks was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and Benjamin Harper reached base on an error on a bunt.
West tacked on one more in the sixth when Harris led off with a single and reached second on a throwing error then Tolbert delivered again with a two-out single.
“They can really swing it,” Walker said of WJ’s batters. “They really jump the fastball, especially when the fastball isn’t very good.”
Dickerson, a Southern Miss signee, had another big night on the mound, striking out 13 and scattering four hits while walking three and hitting two. The bases were loaded with two outs in the seventh when Sutton brought in left-hander Luke Leggett, who got a strikeout to slam the door on the ’Dores.
“He’s really good … one of the top two or three (pitchers) we’ve seen all year,” Walker said of Dickerson.
Asked how his players were so relaxed from the start in their first trip to state, Sutton said, “They’re hungry. They want to be here and they’re ready to go. They’ve been ready to get out here and it showed from the beginning.”