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East Central ambushes LCHS Cougars; knots playoffs

HURLEY — The East Central Hornets defeated the Lawrence CountyCougars 8-5 in Class 4A South State semifinals baseball playoffaction Monday night in Jackson County. East Central bunchedtogether 8 of its 11 hits in a 6-run third-inning outburst, thenheld off repeated LCHS comeback attempts. Lawrence County left 10runners on base in the last 5 innings.

The East Central win knotted the best-of-three series at 1 gameeach. The deciding game will be played Thursday night at JimmieDavis Park in Monticello. Lawrence County won the first game atLCHS on Friday night. The winner of the Lawrence County-EastCentral series will play Petal in the South 4A finals, which willopen Saturday.

Petal swept Terry in the other South 4A semifinals series.

With the win, East Central, coached by Gary Long, improved to20-10 on the season. Lawrence County, under first-year head coachCory Keyes, fell to 26-6.

“It was a frustrating night,” Keyes said. “Our guys played withgreat effort, and gave themselves chances to come back and win thegame. But we kept leaving the bases loaded, and we had some baserunning errors that hurt us.

“It isn’t often that a high school baseball team will get 14hits and score only 5 runs,” Keyes pointed out. “At least we’reswinging the bats pretty well, and I’m proud of the way our guysbattled after we got behind so early.”

East Central exploded for 6 runs on 8 hits in the bottom of thethird, knocking Cougar starter Joseph Evans out of the game. Down7-1, Lawrence County battled back with 2 runs in both the fourthand fifth innings, but the Cougars left the bases loaded in each ofthose innings.

LCHS made one last attempt at a comeback in the seventh. A walkand two singles appeared to have put the potential tying runs onthe bases with 2 outs, but the game ended on a major base runningsnafu.

A leadoff walk and an errant pickoff attempt gift-wrapped a runfor East Central in the bottom of the first. In the third, thesuddenly sizzling Jake Russell tied the game at 1-1 with a home runto deep left-center. It was Russell’s grand slam that proved thedifference in Lawrence County’s 5-1 win on Friday.

After East Central’s big 6-run outburst, the Cougars peckedaway, getting 2 runs on 4 hits in the fourth, and 2 runs on 3 hitsin the fifth. East Central plated a single run in the bottom of thefifth, largely on the strength of Adam McQueen’s leadoff double.McQueen led the Hornets with 3 hits.

Nick Jackson had 3 singles to lead Lawrence County. Russell,Taebyus Smith, Trent Hartzog, and Johnathan Stephens each had 2hits. Michael Thompson, Marty Ballard, and Jeremy Williams also hitsafely for Lawrence County.

After being greeted with hits from the first 3 East Centralbatters he faced, Hartzog pitched well in relief. He struck out 5over the last 3 and 2/3 innings.

Game time is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, for the third and decidinggame of the series.