Gray’s homerun skies the Tigers over Picayune, 8-3

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, March 28, 2017

PICAYUNE — After being walked in his first two trips to the plate, Hattiesburg’s lead off batter Joseph Gray blasted a homerun in the top of the 4th inning—over the newly established Kent Kirkland Field sign—to place the Tigers tied with Pearl River Central on top of the district standings after beating Picayune Friday night 8-3.

In the 1st inning, Hattiesburg made the game look like a track meet, sprinting around the bases as batter after batter connected on deep hits to expose the Tide’s pitcher, Trenton Lee. When the Tigers found an early 3-0 lead in the top of the 1st inning, Head Coach Cody Stogner got his pitcher back on track.

“I told him to not be afraid of these guys, and I have been preaching that all year,” Stogner said. “We live for the fight, from the first pitch to the last.”

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His motivating words to Lee made a visible difference as the senior struck out the next three Tigers, firing up the team as he trotted to the dugout.

The game began to fall in the Tide’s favor as Shaun Anderson used his dynamic speed to score the first run for Picayune, taking advantage of a wild pitch from Hattiesburg’s A.J. Stinson.

Anderson’s speed has proven to be a weapon for the Tide as he has stolen 11 bases already in just 14 games, resulting in the majority of his 29 runs this season.

A couple of Tide base appearances later, Picayune struck again when Robert Shoemaker hit a sacrifice pop fly to the outfield, bringing home another run to inch closer to Hattiesburg’s early head start, 3-2.

Then, in the top of the 4th, Gray launched a two-run homerun that knocked the wheels off of the Tide’s comeback wagon, boosting the Tigers to a 6-3 lead.

“That hit took the wind out of us, but all night we didn’t have that fight we’ve showed in previous games and we let this one get away from us,” Stogner said, commending Hattiesburg’s resilience.

After the homerun, Picayune stood its ground defensively, but struggled to get on base.

To pile even more frustration on the home team, Tigers catcher Noah Thornton put the game away in the top of the 6th inning after swinging two runners home and safely planting on first base to give Hattiesburg the final runs of the game, ending with a score of 8-3.

Caleb Burnette had the only hit of the night for Picayune, while teammate Shoemaker connected on the only RBI.

“We haven’t played our best game yet, and we knew from the beginning that this district is going to come down to the last couple of games to decide who moves on to the playoffs,” Stogner said. “We just have to regroup and focus on the next game ahead.”

The Tide will get a chance at the district frontrunners’ Tuesday in a game against Pearl River Central on the Blue Devils’ home turf at 7 p.m.

Friday, the Tide faces the Blue Devils yet again, but this time at Kent Kirkland Field.

“PRC has a good program over there. It’s going to be a fight that we will look forward to,” Stogner said.