As “Celebration” played on the PA, the West Jones players high-fived and fist-bumped after completing a series sweep of Picayune in dominating fashion on Friday night.
But their celebration wasn’t as up-tempo as Kool & The Gang’s. The players and coaches were somewhat subdued after a 12-2, mercy rule-shortened win that sealed their spot in the South State championship series.
That’s because they made it there last year. This season, they want to take the next step to the Class 5A state championship.
“After last year, that’s been the goal,” WJ coach Trey Sutton said. “That’s been the mindset since we lost to Hattiesburg.”
The Mustangs (25-5) will have a rematch with another Pearl River County team — Pearl River Central (23-11) — in a best-of-3 series that starts Thursday in Soso. West Jones beat the Blue Devils in a dramatic Game 3 to advance to South State last year.
There was no drama in the Mustangs’ wins over Picayune — other than a lightning delay of more than an hour in Friday’s game. They won each contest by the 10-run rule in five innings by a combined score of 25-3 — four more points than the WJ football team scored in beating the Maroon Tide in the South State title game this season.
Catcher Adam Bassett hit a two-run moonshot over the left-field wall — his first homer of the season — and Cole Tolbert hit a solo shot in the Mustangs’ 10-run fourth inning. Bassett went 3-for-3 with the home run and a double from the No. 8 spot and Colson Harris went 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs from the No. 3 spot. Tolbert, batting sixth, was 2-for-3. In all, the Mustangs cranked out 11 hits in four innings.
It was a contrast to their wins in the second-round series, when they had to manufacture runs to oust Long Beach.
“Last week, we didn’t swing the bat well,” Sutton said Friday night. “But we came back and went to work in practice, and they came alive. That’s what you want this time of year, for everyone to catch on fire. The sticks are starting to work, one through nine.”
In the big fourth inning, DH Kelton Keene led off with a walk, then Bassett couldn’t get down a bunt so, with two strikes, he got the green light to swing. He singled to left then Logan Kelly laid down a bunt single to load the bases. Walker Thompson walked in a run, Dustin Dickerson singled one in, then Harris’ dribbler between third and short scored two.
After another walk and a wild pitch let another run score, Trey Wells took over for starter Logan Ledet. Garrett McLaurin greeted him with a sacrifice fly to deep right field then Tolbert homered to left-center. After another walk, Bassett came within a couple of feet of hitting his second homer with a double off the wall. Two errors, another walk and another wild pitch allowed two more runs to score.
The Tide’s only runs came off a walk and two bloop singles in the third. JuVonta Raymond hit one off his fists to the first-base side to cut WJ’s lead to 2-1 after the third inning. Kade Turnage homered in the fifth for the Tide’s other run.
Senior southpaw Kris Riley got the win. He walked the first batter of the game, then had to wait almost an hour-and-a-half before facing No.2 because of the lightning. He walked the bases loaded but struck out the last two batters to get out of the inning unscathed. He struck out eight, walked five and allowed four hits and two runs in five innings.
In Thursday night’s 13-1 win at Picayune, Tolbert went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and Thompson went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. McLaurin and Kelly went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI, Bassett drove in two runs and Harris went 2-for-3 with a double. Keene and Riley doubled in runs and Dickerson drove in a run for the Mustangs, who cranked out 14 hits in five innings.
Dickerson also got the win, striking out three and walking one while allowing four hits and one run in four innings. Leggett pitched the final inning, allowing one hit and one walk. Luke Smith — the first of four Picayune pitchers — took the loss. He walked five and allowed seven runs in 2-2/3 innings.
“We’ve got people hitting in key spots, being productive,” Sutton said, “but we can’t be satisfied. Not yet.”
The Mustangs lost to eventual state champion Hattiesburg in a drama-filled South State series last year. PRC won at North Pike on Saturday in Game 3 to advance to South State.