Hornets move closer

Published 7:00 am Thursday, April 17, 2014

By Creg Stephenson

The Mississippi Press

VANCLEAVE — One big inning Tuesday night put Poplarville on the verge of a playoff berth.

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Poplarville posted five runs in the fourth inning on the way to a 9-2 victory at Vancleave in a key Region 8-4A baseball battle. The Hornets (12-8, 6-3) temporarily took over sole possession of second place in the region, while the Bulldogs (9-12, 5-4) face a must-win situation in the series finale at Poplarville on Thursday.

“This team has come a long way,” Poplarville coach Lance Hendrix said. “I think they have decided they want to be a good baseball team. At the beginning of the year, they were kind of going through the motions and let whatever happened happen. But now, they’re playing with confidence.”

Starting pitchers Roman Moran for Vancleave and Blake Ladner for Poplarville held down the opposition for three innings before the Hornets erupted in the fourth. Tyler Welch’s double to left field set up a bases-loaded infield single by Poplarville leadoff man Justin Oliver for a 2-1 lead, then Vancleave botched a potential double-play ball to let two more runs score.

Poplarville added two more runs on a sacrifice fly by Brandon Spiers and a Luke Goodwin infield single off Moran’s ankle to go up 6-1. The junior right-hander had to be helped off the field, his night over after just 3 2/3 innings.

“We were in the game,” first-year Vancleave coach Daniel Threadgill said. “The story of this whole year has been one big inning against us. Even with the big inning, it’s only 6-1. But the guy they had on the mound was good and they’re solid 1-thru-9 in the lineup. We let the big inning get to us, we dug ourselves in a big hole and couldn’t get out.”

Vancleave got a run back in the fifth when Nathan Goff led off with a double and later scored on Brian Davis’ RBI grounder, but that would be all against Ladner. The senior right-hander went the distance, allowing one earned run on three hits with two walks and six strikeouts.

Poplarville added two more in the sixth against Vancleave reliever Connor Rouse, with Goodwin driving home two on a single. The Hornets catcher ended the night 2-for-3 with 3 RBIs, while Spiers was 3-for-3 with 2 doubles and 2 RBIs and Chandler Ray also had two hits.

“In every game, we kind of step to the plate with the same approach — we want to have quality at-bats and hit the ball hard,” Hendrix said. “We want to be disciplined and swing at strikes.

“Ladner was solid. He kept us in the game when it was close and shut them down once we got the lead.”

Goff had two of Vancleave’s three hits, with Nic Brewer’s fourth-inning double the team’s only other hit.

For the Bulldogs to make the playoffs, St. Stanislaus must sweep Pass Christian Wednesday and Thursday to force a potential three-way and Vancleave must beat Poplarville by at least seven.

Otherwise, Poplarville and Pass Christian are in behind region champion St. Stanislaus. Poplarville would clinch the 2-seed with a win Thursday, based on its head-to-head run-differential of plus-4 against Pass Christian.

The state playoffs begin next week with the play-in round.