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East Central Hornets outscore Lawrence Co.

MONTICELLO — The East Central Hornets won a run-scoringmarathon Thursday night at Jimmie Davis Park. They outscored theLawrence County Cougars 13-10 and captured the South State Class 4Asemifinals series before an overflow crowd.

The Hornets (21-10) advance to a best-of-three South Statechampionship series with the Petal Panthers, starting Saturday atPetal. Lawrence County ends its winningest season with a 26-7worksheet under first-year head coach Cory Keyes.

East Central was directed by senior pitcher Adam McQueen whowent 4-for-4, including a 3-run homer in the top of the firstinning. It highlighted a 6-run explosion and the Cougars neverquite recovered.

McQueen (8-3) , expected to be a Gulf Coast Community Collegescholarship signee, lasted 4.1 innings before being lifted forJustin Owenby. McQueen struck out 5 batters, walked 1 and gave up 8runs on 11 hits.

“Our starting pitcher did a great job,” said East Central coachGary Long. “The first inning was big. Their pitcher (Jake Russell)had shut us down the other night. McQueen was sharp tonight.”

The Cougars trailed 7-1 in the second inning and 10-3 in thefourth before launching a spirited comeback. They reduced EastCentral’s advantage to 10-7 and 13-10.

In the sixth, with the bases loaded, and trailing 13-10,Lawrence County’s Joseph Evans smashed a line drive to centerfield. East Central’s Jake McNeese made a diving catch to kill thecomeback.

“McNeese made a great play and saved us from three runs,” saidLong. “Lawrence County plays hard and swings the bats.”

Long watched his team collect 14 hits in the triumph. J.R.Ballinger, who went 3-for-3, with a double, pitched the finalframe, using his 87-mile per hour fastball to shut down theCougars.

“East Central just hit,” said Keyes. “They came out swinging thebat.

“McQueen is a bulldog,” Keyes continued. “He’s a linebacker onthe mound.”

Russell had pitched and batted the Cougars to victory in lastFriday’s opener, a 5-1 win at Monticello. His grand slam homer hadbroke open a pitching duel with McQueen. Russell had authored a2-hit mound performance.

Nothing seemed to go right for Russell last night. He gave up 6runs on 4 hits in the first inning. Joseph Evans replaced him with1 out after Phillip Byrd blasted a 2-run double to the left-centerfield fence.

“We had a great year,” said Keyes. “I’m proud of our guys andwhat they accomplished. We have a great nucleus coming back,”losing just two senior starters in centerfielder Michael Thompsonand second baseman Jeremy Williams.

Thompson slugged a solo homer in the sixth inning which reducedthe deficit to 13-9. Earlier, in the fourth, Thompson slapped a2-RBI single which cut the Hornets’ lead to 10-7.

In the second, Russell smashed a towering 2-run homer over thecenter field scoreboard, plating Marty Ballard who had singled.Taebyus Smith accounted for 2 singles and a ground-rule double inthe loss.

Long said his team’s lead never felt safe. “I was nervous thewhole game. Lawrence County hits the ball.”

The Cougars accounted for 16 hits but they committed 4 errors. A7-1 East Central lead mushroomed to 13-7, aided by 6 unearnedruns.

In a similiar scenario to Monday’s loss at East Central, theCougafs left 11 runnmers stranded on base.