By Curtis Rockwell, Sports Editor
The Picayune Item
Picayune’s magical playoff run came up just short of a spot in the state finals.
Homestanding Pascagoula, the defending Class 5A state champs, took a hard-fought 5-3 win over the Maroon Tidee in game three of the best of three South State finals here Saturday before a capacity crowd at Ingalls Field.
Upstart Picayune entered the playoffs with a 9-16 record, before winning seven of nine games in the postseason.
“I have never been more proud of a group of guys and a coaching staff than I have been right now,” an emotional Cayne Stockstill, Picayune’s head coach, said. “I wouldn’t trade a one of them. They started beliving in themselves as the season progressed and making tings happen. We have nothing to hang our heads about.”
Allen Cowart pitched a complete-game four-hitter for the Panthers, including setting down the final 13 Maroon Tide batters, and Justin Stanford and Carlos Lott drove in two runs apiece in the winning effort.
The state finals will be a rematch between the Panthers and North State champion Hernando.
Pascagoula is 22-13, while Picayune finishes up 16-18.
“Cowart wanted to go Friday, but I felt more comfortable giving him a little bit of rest,” Pascagoula head coach Richie Tillman said. “We knew that if we got to Game 3, we’d have a horse on the mound. And he may be like 5-foot, but let me tell you something, he plays like he’s 6-7. We knew behind him that we’d do well.”
The Panthers jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning and led 4-0 after two frames, all off of Picayune starter Mark Wood. It was Wood’s first start in a month, due to the fact that the Maroon Tide had swept its first three playoff series in two games each over Moss Point, Pearl and South Jones.
Picayune battled back valiantly after the early deficit, however, scoring three runs in the third to pull within 4-3. The Tide’s three runs came on consecutive RBI singles from Nick Marble, Wood and Jacob Taylor.
From there, though, Cowart would keep the Tide at bay, as he struck out eight and did not walk a batter in improving to 4-1 shutting down the bats and securing the big win. Wood went the distance as well and took the loss.
Picayune was trying to get back to the state finals for the first time in 10 years, the last of three straight title round appearances by the Maroon Tide in 2001, 2002 and 2003.
This was Picayune’s first appearance in the South State finals since 2008, when Stockstill’s team also lost to the defending state champs in East Central.
“You get in a situation where you expect your team to come back,” Stockstill said. “After we scored three runs by hustling around the bases to get back in the game, I thought we would continue. But, you have to tip your hat to Cowart. He is a very good pitcher.”