WJ wins

West Jones players storm out of the dugout following the state championship victory. (Photo by Mark Thornton)

West Jones stymies Lafayette in two straight games for school’s first championship in Big 3 sports

PEARL — The Blond Bombers are now the Golden Boys. They beat Lafayette County 7-2 to complete a perfect postseason, bringing the Class 5A state championship trophy home to West Jones.

“We got to South State last year … and that was so hard to lose it,” said Kris Riley, who pitched the win and went 3-for-4 with three RBIs in the Game 2 clincher on Thursday night. “We came back this year, worked hard and it paid off. It’s a great feeling.”

Coach Trey Sutton was soaking it all in — after his players soaked him with the water cooler while he was talking to the media at Trustmark Park.

“The kids were determined,” he said. “They felt like they weren’t going to be denied. They set a goal walking out of that park (in Hattiesburg, after losing South State) last year. To be able to set that goal and get it done is unbelievable. They’re relentless. They set a goal and they got it done.”

That was their long-range goal since before the season. The short-term goal for the core group of seven seniors was to win the series on Thursday night so they could celebrate their graduation on Friday night and not have to return to Pearl to play Game 3 today (Saturday).

They went to work in the fifth inning to make sure that happened.

Dustin Dickerson delivered with a two-run double to deep left-center and, after Colson Harris drew a walk, Riley ripped a two-run double up the third-base line to make it 5-1. Junior catcher Adam Bassett got the big inning started with a single to left, then Logan Kelly walked and leadoff man Walker Thompson laid down a bunt single to load the bases for Dickerson.

The Commodores (19-11) bounced back from Wednesday night’s 10-1 shellacking and scored the first run of the game on Ben Harper’s RBI single to center in the third inning.

The Mustangs answered in the next inning with sophomore Cole Tolbert’s two-out, RBI single to left to score Garrett McLaurin, who also singled to left.

West added two more runs in the sixth. With two outs, Thompson singled to left and Dickerson drew a walk. Harris then hit a high, short fly to right that was misplayed and allowed Thompson to score and Riley followed with a run-scoring single up the middle.

In the bottom of the sixth, Riley hit Harper, then a single by freshman standout Tyrus Carmichael-Williams and another walk loaded the bases. After Riley walked in a run, McLaurin came in for his first relief appearance of the postseason. 

Senior left-fielder Logan Kelly made a nice running catch to his left for the last out of the inning, then threw out a runner who was trying to stretch a single into a double in the seventh. McLaurin struck out the first and last batter of the final inning to set off a celebration with the Soso Sluggers’ faithful.

“We worked our butts off to get back here,” said McLaurin, who is a Southwest Mississippi Community College signee. “It feels amazing.”

Riley, a Pearl River Community College signee, said the heat and humidity got to him a little but at the end, but he knew the ball was in good hands. He struck out five, walked two, hit one and allowed four hits in 5-2/3 innings.

“Garrett came in and closed us out,” he said. “He did a great job and we got it.”

McLaurin said he was ready to go, even though his services hadn’t been needed until the last four outs of the Mustangs’ 8-0 run through the playoffs.

“Our starting pitchers have done such a great job, they didn’t need me,” he said with a chuckle.

The Mustangs played error-free ball behind Riley and McLaurin, turning a double play in the fourth after the Lafayette leadoff batter singled.

Sutton said he was glad to see Riley snap out of a recent slump and have a big game in his last outing as a Mustang.

“He came out, like a senior in a big game, and got a couple of big hits for us,” he said. “With a guy like that, that’s what you expect.”

The Commodores were playing their fourth game in four days after a tough, rain-delayed North State championship, but coach John Walker didn’t make excuses. He just tipped his cap to West Jones.

“We got out played by a team that’s better than us, two nights in a row, and that’s just reality,” he said. “That’s a very classy group, a very good group, and man, they can play. Without question, they’re the most solid defensive team we’ve seen, especially across the infield.”

GAME 1

’Stangs slam ’Dores 

in Wednesday opener

PEARL — The hit parade continued for West Jones.

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.”

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 stayed 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.”

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