In their first head-to-head meetings on the diamond since 2008, the visiting Lions of East Mississippi Community College and rival Meridian Community College battled to a pair of one-run baseball decisions Tuesday afternoon at Scaggs Field on the MCC campus. EMCC pulled out a 4-3 victory in eight innings in the opener but fell 3-2 to the home-standing Eagles in the nightcap.
In the opening game, the Lions staked starting pitcher Smokey Ethridge to an early 2-0 lead in the third inning on successive, two-out base hits by Philip Tice, Tyler Odom and Colton Caver. Meanwhile on the mound, Ethridge faced the minimum number of batters through the first five innings before running into trouble to begin the sixth. Up until then, the former West Lauderdale High School product had allowed only a first-inning single to Paul Angel, who was thrown out trying to reach second on the hit, and a lead-off single in the third by Mac Seibert, who was promptly caught stealing at second.
The Eagles loaded the bases off Ethridge with a pair of hits and an infield error to open the bottom of the sixth. Meridian was able to knot the score at 2-2 on a run-scoring fielder’s choice and an RBI single, before freshman reliever and eventual winning pitcher Brock McKnight cut short the rally by retiring the first two batters he faced and leaving a pair stranded.
Though not figuring in the decision, Ethridge pitched well in giving up five hits, while striking out two and not issuing a walk, in 5.1 innings of work.
EMCC answered right back and looked to be in good shape to break the deadlock in the top of the seventh by loading the bases with one out. However, Meridian reliever Blake Barrow got Odom to hit into an inning-ending double play to quickly thwart the rally.
The Lions struck early in the initial extra frame, as redshirt freshman Trent Waddell clubbed his first collegiate home run – a two-run shot to right field – to put the visitors on top 4-2. Meridian’s Brooks Balisterri led off the bottom of the eighth with a double and came around to score two batters later on Angel’s sacrifice fly. EMCC’s Nick Brooks, of Starkville, came in to get the final two outs and pick up his second save of the young season.
In the nightcap, the teams exchanged solo runs in the opening frame. The score remained tied at 1-1 until the fourth when EMCC grabbed the lead again. Austin Braddock followed Caver’s one-out single with a double, setting the stage for Tice’s run-producing sacrifice fly.
EMCC sophomore starter Dillon Hawkins had settled down during the middle portion of the game until opening the fifth by hitting Balisterri with a pitch and allowing an infield single to Jonathan Youngblood. Freshman left-hander Hunter Floyd then faced three batters, allowing an RBI infield single by Dallas Hannah and then misfiring on a toss to home plate in an attempt to throw out the speedy Youngblood on Charles Morton’s fielder’s choice. Odom, Floyd’s former prep teammate at Oak Grove High School, moved over to the mound from third base to get the final two outs of the inning and keep the game at 3-2 in favor of the home team.
Kellon Hibbard came in to relieve Meridian starter Witt Haggard at the beginning of the fifth inning and kept the Lions off the scoreboard over the final three innings. EMCC did manage to get a runner in scoring position in both the fifth and sixth innings but could not come up with the timely hit.
Coach Chris Rose’s 3-1 EMCC Lions head to neighboring Alabama this weekend to face Wallace Community College Selma on Saturday and Bishop State Community College Sunday in Mobile. Both doubleheaders are slated to begin at noon.