PHOTO BY TRAVIS WEBB/LSU-EUNICE
EUNICE, La. — No. 18 Mississippi Gulf Coast pounced on No. 4 Pearl River's self-inflicted wounds Wednesday, scoring eight in the sixth inning on the way to a 16-6 win in eight innings in the opening round of the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament.
"They walked a few guys and made some errors, but like I tell our guys, you put the ball in play and things can happen," Gulf Coast coach Rodney Batts said. "If you strikeout a lot, teams don't have to make plays. We got some help, but we've done that plenty this year. It was good to be on the other end."
Gulf Coast, making its first appearance in a regional since 2012, got a strong relief performance from Bailey Hargrave (R-So, Madison Central/Madison), two triples from Dylan Menhennett (So, Biloxi/Biloxi) and two doubles from Cullan O'Shea (Fr, Mary G. Montgomery/Mobile, Ala.) in a 12-hit day.
The fifth-seeded Bulldogs (35-14) will play third-seeded Meridian (36-11) in a game scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday. The Eagles face elimination after a 4-3 loss to fourth-seed Itawamba. The Indians play LSU-Eunice at 6 p.m., with Hinds facing Pearl River in an elimination game at noon.
Down 6-4 after five, the Bulldogs only managed two hits in their explosive inning. O'Shea singled and PRCC made two errors to load the bases. The Wildcats walked three straight batter to give the Bulldogs their first lead at 7-6.
McGrew singled to make it 8-6 and the Bulldogs got four more thanks to two more errors.
Menhennett had a bases-loaded triple in the eighth, then scored on a wild pitch for the final margin.
"In tournament play, that's the biggest win," he said. "Getting that first win, staying ahead and staying ahead and staying out of the loser's bracket."
Gulf Coast got behind 3-0 in the first but scored twice in the second. Colby Cagle (So, West Harrison/Lizana) singled in a run, and O'Shea's first double made it 3-2.
The Bulldogs pulled to 4-3 in the third on an RBI groundout by Alden Davis (Fr, Pascagoula/Pascagoula), and Cagle tied it in the fourth with a solo blast to left. It was his third home run of the season.
Pearl River took advantage of a brief deluge in the fifth to score twice. Hargrave entered in relief with runners at second and third and one out, threw two pitches then had to sit 15 minutes during a rain delay.
"I had my doubts about it, but I knew something good was going to happen," he said. "It was pouring rain and figured they were going to call it. Good thing they did because I went to the dugout and cleared my minds a little and was able to get out of the jam."
Hargrave induced a sacrifice fly to make it 6-4, then Logan McGrew (So, Sumrall/Sumrall) threw out a base-stealer.
"He got stronger as the game went along," Batts said. "That was big for our bullpen that we didn't have to use anybody else."
Hargrave (3-1) didn't allow a hit until one out in the eighth. He struck out five and walked two.
The Bulldogs had lost twice to Pearl River during the regular season, but they are now 3-0 against teams they'd gone 0-2 against during the regular season. They swept at Northwest last week in a best-of-three series after having been swept in Senatobia earlier.
Meridian also beat the Bulldogs twice in their earlier meeting.
"We've got to come back and play well," Batts said. "We're going to have to pitch well. They can really swing it. They may not have swung it well today as they're capable of. We know what they're capable of."
NJCAA Region 23 Tournament
Wednesday, May 16
Game 1: No. 4 Itawamba 4, No. 3 Meridian 3
Game 2: No. 5 Mississippi Gulf Coast 16, No. 2 Pearl River 6 (8 innings)
Game 3: No. 1 LSU-Eunice 10, No. 6 Hinds 0 (5 innings)
Thursday, May 17
Game 4: Pearl River (37-10) vs. Hinds (28-20), noon
Game 5: Meridian (36-12) vs. Gulf Coast (35-14), 3 p.m.
Game 6: Itawamba (33-15) vs. LSU-Eunice (51-5), 6 p.m.
Friday, May 18
Game 7: Game 4 winner vs. Game 6 loser, noon
Game 8: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 3 p.m.
Game 9: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 loser, 6 p.m.
Saturday, May 19
Game 10: Game 8 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 3 p.m.
Sunday, May 20
If Necessary Game
Game 11: Game 10 winner vs. Game 10 loser, 1 p.m.
Schedule may change after games 6 and 9 depending on number of one-loss teams.
Winner advances to the 2018 NJCAA Division II World Series as the South District representative.
For more information on MGCCC's 10 intercollegiate athletic teams, follow @MGCCCAthletics on Twitter and BulldogLIVE on Facebook, and go to mgcccbulldogs.com.