MERIDIAN, Miss. — No. 5 Pearl River opened a difficult three game road trip on Saturday by splitting with No. 9 Meridian, earning a 20-18 win in the opener before slipping down the stretch in a 5-4 defeat.
"They're a quality team and this is a tough place to play," Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said. "It's the same song and dance for us right now. We have to get better situationally at the plate. We talked about strikeouts being our Achilles heel with runners on third base.
"Credit to them, but they gave us ample opportunities to win on the road and we just didn't get it done."
GAME 1: PRCC 20, MCC 18
PRCC (20-5 overall, 5-3 MACJC) broke through first with a three-run homer from Wiley Cleland (Columbia; Columbia Academy). The Eagles (17-5, 6-2) cashed in on an error that kept the second inning alive, hitting a three-run homer to tie the game through two innings.
The teams traded solo homers in the third. Dexter Jordan (Hattiesburg) blasted one on top of the hill beyond Meridian's left field wall in the top of the frame and MCC responded in the bottom half. MCC later scratched across a second run in the inning to take a 5-4 lead into the fourth.
The Wildcats jumped back ahead 7-5 with a three-run fourth, plating runs on a sacrifice fly from hometown guy Luke Harper (Meridian; Northeast Lauderdale), a Matt Taylor (Raleigh) double and a ground out from Austen Izzio (Carriere; Pearl River Central).
The Eagles responded by plating six runs in the bottom of the fourth to take a commanding 11-7 advantage.
The Wildcats exploded for five runs in the fifth. Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison) doubled in Cleland in the fifth to get one run back, 11-8. A two-out single from Harper scored Donaldson to pull PRCC within two, 11-9. Taylor put PRCC back ahead 12-11 courtesy of a three-run blast, his fifth of the year.
After Taylor drove in another run on a single to left field, Izzio blasted his sixth homer of the season, a three-run shot to left field to extend the Wildcats' lead to 16-11.
Pearl River tacked on three more insurance runs in the eighth. After Reece Ewing (Mobile, Ala.; Faith Academy) tripled, Magruder O'Bannon (Gulfport; St. Stanislaus) doubled him home before scoring on a grounder from Taylor. The left fielder then scored on a Jordan single to extend PRCC's lead to 19-11.
The Eagles tacked on five runs in the eighth to keep within striking distance. The Wildcats added one run in the ninth on a single by O'Bannon.
MCC threatened in the ninth, scoring two runs on two walks, two singles and an error, but came in and Miles Smith (Laurel; Northeast Jones) saved the game, striking out two and getting a game clinching pop-up.
Every PRCC starter recorded at least one hit — outside of catcher Britt McKay (Wiggins; Ocean Springs), who left the game early with an injury. Taylor was 5-for-7 to lead the offensive outburst, driving in six with a home run and double. He also scored four times. Ewing was a home run shy of the cycle, going 3-for-5 with a double, triple and three runs scored. O'Bannon also had three hits, while Harper, Barron and Jordan had two apiece. Izzio was second on the team with four RBIs.
Shemar Page (Raleigh) allowed 11 runs (seven earned) in 3 2/3 innings, striking out seven. Jerod Meggs (Kosciusko) earned the win in relief, throwing a season-high 3 2/3 innings. The reliever allowed five runs (three earned). Reid Golemon (Moselle; South Jones) also pitched before Smith came in and earned his first save of the season.
The game marked the third time PRCC has scored 20 runs this season, joining the Wildcats' 23-3 victory over Baton Rouge on Feb. 17 and 20-11 win at Copiah-Lincoln on March 19. By comparison, PRCC scored 20 runs once last season in a 20-4 victory over BRCC.
GAME 2: MCC 5, PRCC 4
Saturday's nightcap couldn't have been a greater contrast from Game 1 as the two teams onlycombined for nine runs.
Taylor continued to swing a hot bat in Game 2, scoring Page from third on a deep sacrifice fly to give the Wildcats an early 1-0 advantage. Jordan then doubled home Taylor.
Donaldson tacked on a run in the fourth with a leadoff homer to straightaway center field.
The Eagles scored two in the fourth to pull within one, 3-2.
Pearl River got a run back in the fifth on a bases loaded groundout from Cleland.
Back-to-back homers in the fifth put MCC ahead for good.
Starter Colin Danley (Lucedale; East Central) allowed five runs on seven hits and one walk in 5 1/3 innings while striking out four. Trenton Lee (Picayune) gave PRCC a chance late, entering with two on and one out in the sixth and getting back-to-back strikeouts.
Izzio led PRCC with two hits, including one double. Noah Barron (Hoover, Ala.) and Jordan each had doubles. Page tallied a triple.
"We walk out of here knowing we're very fortunate to have earned a split. We earned the split, don't get me wrong, but we're very fortunate. If we don't make one or two plays in the first one you're looking at leaving here 0-2 and if we made one or two plays in the second game you're looking at being 2-0. That's MACJC baseball. It's a battle and a grind," Avalon said. "Hopefully these guys are figuring it out and maybe we got a little tougher today — we'll see."
Pearl River's road trip continues Tuesday with a 3 p.m. doubleheader Tuesday at rival Gulf Coast. PRCC then visits Delta at 1 p.m. Saturday before returning to Dub Herring Park on Wednesday for a 3 p.m. doubleheader against East Central. Every game will be carried on WRJWRadio.com; the Delta game will also be on WRJW 1320 AM.