Pinero punches Picayune’s ticket to Jackson in dramatic fashion

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 10, 2017

PICAYUNE — After waiting over a decade to make it back to the State Championship, it seemed that all Picayune had to do was name the field after its head coach Kristi Mitchell as the Lady Tide became South State Champions Monday night after beating Long Beach 5-4 in game three.

Picayune has gone on a tear in the 5A playoffs, going 5-0 as they headed into the final games of the South State Championship Monday with a 1-0 lead in the series against Long Beach. And even though they won the first game by a landslide, scoring 10 runs in the sixth inning for a 15-2 victory, Head Coach Kristi Mitchell knew the next game wasn’t going to be a walk through the park.

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“Long Beach has always been a tough team to beat. They play great defense and can get on a run just like we can,” Mitchell said before Monday’s game two.

However, after Long Beach forced a game three just moments after defeating Picayune, the Lady Tide became South State Champions in a theatrical performance as Alyssa Pinero sent Long Beach home with a walk-off hit to the outfield at Kristi Mitchell Field.

In game two, Picayune’s Megan Dudenhefer came out throwing darts, framing each pitch to strikeout six of the first nine Lady Bearcats batters while conceding only one walk and hit for an RBI in the first inning. During the initial inning, Picayune’s Pinero tripled an RBI to center field to level the score 1-1 before Madyson Turnage drew a bases-loaded walk on Long Beach pitcher Savannah Bryant to score another Lady Tide run.

With batters of both teams making it look easy to get on base, base running became the x-factor in game two, which began leaning in Long Beach’s favor in the early episodes of game two. After Dudenhefer rounded home a run in the second, she attempted to make it to second base, only to be thrown out by a couple of inches to end the inning up 3-1 against the Lady Bearcats.

In the ensuing stages, a pair of Long Beach base runners became caught in a rundown, which surprisingly resulted in the go-ahead run for the away team.

And just when things started to look up for Picayune, following a two-run RBI from Turnage in the sixth inning to inch closer to Long Beach with a score of 6-4, the unlucky streak of base running for Picayune continued.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, a Lady Tide runner on third base was caught leading off while a pop fly headed towards her. As she tried to get back to the base, she ran into the third basemen and was called out for interference. One out later, Picayune suffered a 6-5 lose, forcing a game three that began just minutes after the loss.

In game three, Picayune once again blocked out what happened moments before, capitalizing on an early 3-0 lead behind RBIs from Marissa McDonald and Elizabeth Taggard as well as a bases-loaded walk in the third inning.

The Lady Tide did not let up, as lead off batter Jessica Magee doubled for another run to mount a comfortable 5-0 lead. Then Long Beach showed why they are also in the South State Championship. In the sixth inning, the Lady Bearcats loaded the bases as Kaitlynn McGoey hit a sacrifice fly to bring in the team’s first run of game three. Proceeding the come back was Bryant, who singled for an RBI before Picayune’s left outfielder Sarah Walker sprinted nearly 40 feet to make an acrobatic catch near the foul line to momentarily jumble Long Beach’s stride. However, the Lady Bearcats found footing in the top of the seventh with a two-run RBI single from McGoey to tie the game 4-4.

Then, before Picayune’s Lexi Picou began the fate at the plate, Pinero controlled a team huddle, motivating her teammates that she has played alongside for many years.

“I told Lexi that if you get on base, and get to a scoring position, I promise you I will bring you home,” Pinero said.

And she lived up to her promise. With Picou on third base and Devin Frierson on first, Pinero beamed the game-winning walk off hit into the outfield to send Picayune to the State Championship as South State Champions.

“I am at a loss for words. We worked so hard to get to this moment,” she said. “A lot of us have played together since we were little, so having this moment with them is something I will remember forever. It was a team effort today.”

After being doused in a Gatorade shower from her players, Mitchell said even though the game was tight, she had full trust in her team in the final moments of game three.

“I let the girls control the final huddle because there isn’t much that a coach can do at that point. It’s all about toughness and how much you want it and I can tell you with confidence that they wanted that win more than anyone,” Mitchell said. “I am so excited for them.”

Picayune will travel to Jackson Thursday to face Neshoba Central at 11 a.m. for game one of the 5A State Championship.