Cougars beat Richland with seventh-inning surge

Published 9:20 am Thursday, April 7, 2016

RICHLAND – Lawrence County defeated Richland 7-4 in Division 6-4A action Tuesday night at Richland High School. After the Cougars and Rangers battled all night in a tight, tense game, LCHS erupted for four runs in the top of the seventh to clinch the win.

With the victory, Josh Garrett’s Cougars improved to 17-1 overall, and 10-0 in Division 6-4A play, keeping pace with North Pike in the division race. Richland, battling for one of division’s four playoff slots, fell to 4-6 in the division.

“It wasn’t an easy night, it wasn’t a beautiful night, but it was a very good win,” said Garrett, in his second season heading his alma mater. “I thought our guys battled hard against a really special pitcher to get it done. The same can be said of the Richland kids. They played a hard, tough game.”

The game set up as a duel between two of the division’s top pitchers – Lawrence County’s Josh Stephens and Richland’s Brandon Smith. Both entered with sub-one earned run averages. Stephens wasn’t his sharpest, but as gutsy and determined as ever. In six and 1/3 innings, he allowed four runs (3 earned) on seven hits. Working to a tight strike zone, Stephens had an uncharacteristic six walks. He struck out eight.

Smith, considered by some to be Mississippi’s top sophomore, worked six innings and left the mound with a 4-3 lead. He allowed seven hits and struck out nine. After Smith was pulled due to a high pitch total, Lawrence County scored four runs on four hits against four Ranger relievers.

“Obviously, they stand a better chance to win the game if they send Smith out for the seventh,” said long-time LCHS assistant Craig Davis. “But give our guys some credit for running his pitch count to 117 pitches. We got seven hits off him, and we had some good, long, battling at-bats even when we got out. We had more success against him than anyone else has had this season.”

LCHS shortstop Kasey Durr slammed Smith’s first pitch into the left-field corner for a leadoff double. One out later, T-Tez Cole also doubled into the corner, giving the Cougars a 1-0 lead. In the top of the second, Gabriel Lewis reached on an error and stole second. When the catcher’s throw escaped, Lewis came all the way around to score. It was 2-0.

Richland used a walk and a Smith double to cut the Lawrence County lead to 2-1 after three innings. In the bottom of the fifth, the Rangers used three straight singles and a Cougar error to score two runs and take a 3-2 lead.

Lawrence County knotted the game at 3-3 with a run in the top of the sixth. Stephens and Gabriel Lewis had singles, and courtesy runner Gage Daley scored on a Brennan Lang grounder. Richland recaptured the lead in the bottom of the frame, with catcher Henry Johnson squeezing home Ajani Johnson, who led off with a single.

That set up the top of the seventh – minus fireballer Smith. Brandon Bullock and T-Tez Cole started the rally with singles. After Marcus Atterberry was hit by a pitch, Stephens bounced a two-run single over Richland’s drawn-in infield, giving Lawrence County the lead for good. Later, Lang drove home a run with a single, and Seth Bass had a bases-loaded walk.

In the bottom of the seventh, after Stephens issued a one-out walk, Lang took to the mound and retired the final two Richland batters.

Stephens led the Cougars with three hits. Lang and Cole each had two. Brandon Smith, as tough at the plate as he is on the mound, went 3-for-3 to lead the Rangers.

Lawrence County also won in junior varsity action, banging out 11 hits in an 8-2 win. Trey Thurman pitched the full 5 innings.

Lawrence County and Richland will conclude their three-game series with a double-header at Jimmie Davis Park on Friday, starting at 4 p.m.