POPLARVILLE, Miss. — No. 8 Pearl River's Opening Day doubleheader on Sunday saw two teams flip the script on one another. After Jefferson College — ranked No. 5 among NJCAA Division I programs — rallied late to force extra innings before ultimately winning 5-3 in 13, the host Wildcats gave fans at Dub Herring Park reason to leave happy when Reece Ewing (Mobile, Ala.; Faith Academy) delivered a walk-off single to complete a 5-4 rally in Game 2.
"I think we learned a lot. We were fortunate to get a split there," said Coach Michael Avalon, who managed his 99thand 100thgames in maroon and gold Sunday. "I think you had two talented teams that didn't play to their capabilities throughout. Hopefully on our end we'll learn from it and continue to improve."
Pearl River trailed 4-3 heading into the bottom of the seventh. Wiley Cleland (Columbia; Columbia Academy) got things started with a one-out double. After a fly out, Luke Harper (Meridian; Northeast Lauderdale) walked to bring Austen Izzio (Carriere; Pearl River Central) to the plate. The freshman third baseman shot a ball toward the left side for what looked like the game's final out. But the Vikings' shortstop threw the ball away trying to get Harper at second, allowing Cleland to score and both Harper and Izzio to move into scoring position.
Ewing, who started the game in center field and later came in to pitch, chased the first offering from JC's pitcher before sending the walk-off hit into right field.
"I made sure I brought everything back to reality (after the chase) and realized all I needed was to get a single. I was trying to do too much at first, so I slowed everything down and made sure if I got my pitch I wouldn't miss it," said Ewing, who was 2-for-4 with three RBIs in the game. "I'm always ready for a situation like that. I want to be up in those situations."
Like in Game 1, PRCC (1-1 overall) struck first in the second inning when Ewing hit a two-run homer over the right field wall.
The Vikings (2-2) responded in the top of the third, taking a 3-2 lead by scoring on a passed ball, double and groundout.
Matt Taylor (Raleigh) tied things back up with a sacrifice fly in the fourth that scored Dexter Jordan (Hattiesburg), but the Vikings pulled back ahead on an errant pickoff attempt by Ewing. The mistake set up the thrilling bottom of the seventh.
"Reece Ewing was big for us in Game 2," Avalon said. "That's kind of what we expected from him; He can help us on the mound and at the plate."
Ewing earned the win in relief, striking out six and walking four in two innings.
Avalon came away impressed with Miles Smith (Laurel; Northeast Jones), who struck out seven against four runs, one walk and three earned runs in four innings.
"His stuff is better than it was last year," Avalon said. "I expect him to have a really good year for us."
Ewing was the only player with multiple hits in the game for PRCC.
GAME 1: JC 5, PRCC 3 (13 inn.)
The visiting Vikings rallied late and then scored twice in the 13thto pull out a win in PRCC's opener.
Pearl River got on the scoreboard first in the third inning. Harper opened the inning with a double and scored on an error and then Taylor— who reached on a bunt single — scored on a Cleland single through the left side. After JC tied the game in the top of the fourth, PRCC responded in the bottom of the inning when Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison) hit the team's first homer of 2019 over the right field wall.
"There's no question he has that ability," Avalon said of Donaldson's homer. "The big thing for him is to remain humbled and handle success and keep working."
The Vikings tied the game on a groundout in the eighth to force the extra innings.
Starter Shemar Page (Raleigh) struck out five while allowing two unearned runs on two hits and one walk.
"Shemar's Shemar. That's something I don't ever want to take for granted," Avalon said. "The kid's a winner. He came in there, gave us a chance to win and did his part."
FESTIVE OPENING DAY
The Dub featured a rocous Opening Day crowd as fans filled the 200 new chairback seats and ran all the way down both sides of the newly renovated field. Fans also filled the fight field lounge, where sweet smoke from the grills wafted over the field.
"Without a question, this was the largest crowd in my three years at Pearl River," Avalon said. "I speak for the whole team that we're blessed to have these fans and this kind of support from the community.
"I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better atmosphere in all of junior college baseball."
PRCC returns to the diamond next Sunday with a trip to Baton Rouge. The Wildcats will play St. Louis at 3 p.m. before playing host BRCC at 6 p.m.