Hattiesburg sweeps South State, advances to 5A State ChampionshipBy CAMAL PETRO,
HATTIESBURG – Hattiesburg’s Kam Wells hasn’t been called upon too many times to pitch in big-time games this season. On Friday in Game 2 of the 5A South State Series with West Jones, he was asked to get the final two outs with a two-run lead and the bases loaded.
He did just that to help the Hattiesburg Tigers complete the sweep over West Jones 10-8, which advanced the Tigers to their second 5A State Championship in three years.
“Kam hasn’t pitched in a big game not many times all year,” Hattiesburg coach Joe Hartfield said. “All of the sudden, he’s in the biggest game of the year and he gets the job done.”
Wells also came up big on the mound in the third round against South Jones, as he got the final out in Game 2 of that series to force a Game 3. He also threw out the would-be game-winning run in the same game the inning before, so it’s been a good week for the senior.
Friday didn’t come easy for the Tigers, though. They fell behind 6-1 in the top of the third inning when Hattiesburg senior Joe Gray lost a ball in the lights, and that allowed West Jones’ Evan Bynum to sprint around the bases for an inside-the-park grand slam. The ball nearly rolled all the way to the 445-foot mark of Smokie Harrington Park.
“Joe lost the ball in the lights and it cost us a lot of runs, but we didn’t give up,” Hartfield said. “We just kept going.”
Gray said he’s never lost a ball in the lights at home, and he was worried because he lost the next fly ball, too. Luckily for Gray, he overcame the issue in time to catch the final out of the game.
“After that, I just had to play with my glove up like I was playing in the sun because of how bright our lights are,” Gray said. “I fixed it and I sure wasn’t going to miss that last ball.”
Gray would get redemption, however. In the next half inning, he sent a pitch to deep left field. The ball was misplayed by the West Jones center fielder, and that allowed a run to score and Gray to reach third. He later scored to help cut the Mustangs’ lead to 6-5 after three innings.
Hattiesburg added three runs in the fifth inning to push its lead to 9-6, then added an insurance run in the sixth to make it a 10-6 ballgame. It would need it, too, because West Jones put together a rally that caused a pitching carousel for the Tigers in the top of the seventh.
“We just chipped away,” Hartfield said. “We knew there was a lot of baseball left.”
West Jones loaded the bases with no outs, and Hartfield pulled relief pitcher Landon Rascoe for senior Jay Reedy. Reedy was later taken out for Gray, then after one batter, Hartfield gave the ball to Wells.
When Wells toed the rubber, West Jones had the bases loaded still with one out and the Tigers’ lead was shrunk down to 10-8. A pop up to senior second baseman Jaden Richardson got the second out of the inning, then Wells got the final out on a fly out to Gray.
Hartfield said after the game that the seventh inning was one of the more stressful innings he’s coached in during his long career.
“Very much so,” he said. “The only thing I can think of that comes close to it was the Game 2 against South Jones (last week) when we were down going into the ninth inning. That’s two close games. It’s not easy getting to this point, and those are just two examples of it not being easy.”
Stinson started the game for the Tigers and pitched five innings while giving up six runs – all earned – on five hits with five strikeouts and five walks. The four-run grand slam isn’t counted as an error on Gray because he lost it in the lights, so the runs counted toward Stinson’s ERA.
Other than the third inning, Stinson put zeros on the board, though.
“It wasn’t that good,” Stinson said of his outing. “I was thinking first pitch strike but I didn’t like how it was coming out. The team backed me.”
Hattiesburg is set to take on Lewisburg for the 5A State Championship next week. The schedule isn’t finalized yet, but Game 1 is tentatively planned for Tuesday night.
“It took every player on our team and every coach on our staff to get to this point,” Hartfield said. “A lot of different people just did a lot of different things to help us.”