Host River bombs East Central 12-1 in Region 23 opener

            POPLARVILLE — Host Pearl River opened Region 23 Tournament play in dominating fashion here Thursday in Wildcat Stadium, demolishing top-seeded East Central 12-1 in eight innings and now faces second-seeded LSU-Eunice (La.) in Friday’s second round at 7 p.m.
            LSU-E (46-8) smacked third-seeded Northwest Mississippi (31-17) 8-0 in six innings in the tournament opener. ECCC, which defeated NWCC 4-0 in last Sunday’s MACJC title bout also played in Wildcat Stadium, sees a rematch with the Rangers in a loser’s bracket elimination game to kick off Friday’s action at 3:30 p.m.
            The fourth-seeded Wildcats improved to 40-12 overall, while the MACJC champion Warriors dropped to 31-20.
            The River kicked off the top of the first inning by shelling Warrior starter Fernando Gonzales with four runs before adding three more in the second. East Central emptied its bullpen after Gonzales exited the mound after one frame, utilizing six relievers over the next seven frames.
            In the first, Ole Miss signee Braxton Lee of Picayune High and Darius Knight of Pearl River led off with back-to-back base hits before Paul Pickerrell out of John Hardin High in Elizabethtown, Ky., outran a bunt for a base hit to load the bases. A pop out later, Gonzales walked Forrest Dungan of Columbia High to push in PRCC’s first run, then belted Nathan Pugh of Starkville High to score a second before Kollin Cannon out of St. Stanislaus in Bay St. Louis drove in Pickerrell when he reached on a fielder’s choice. Ivan Garcia of Katy (Tex.) High then cracked an RBI single before Darien Brown of Hattiesburg High grounded to short for the final out.
            Wildcat starter Christian Talley, a Southern Miss signee who prepped at Hancock County High, gave up a one-out single to Kalik May in the bottom of the frame before Tim Anderson reached via a booted infield grounder; but struck out two straight to end the inning.
            With Blake Dubuisson relieving Gonzales to start the second, Lee led off with a line-drive single to left center, moved to second on a wild pick off throw to first, and scored when Knight reached on the first of six Warrior errors to make it 5-0. Pickerrell then reached on a fielder’s choice with Knight sliding safely into the second, setting the stage for an RBI single to center by Krisjon Wilkerson, another St. Stanislaus recruit. After Dungan walked to load the bases, Knight scored on a wild pitch before Dubuisson retired Pugh and Cannon with fly outs and K’d Garcia for the final out.
            That 7-0 advantage remained intact until the bottom of the fourth when East Central scored its only run of the contest when John Morgan Berry crushed a two-out double to left and scored off Maxwell Harmon’s sacrifice to right.
            Ty Hendrix, who relieved Dubuisson with an out in the top of the fourth, opened the fifth with a Garcia strikeout and a Brown ground out, but gave up a single to Lee before belting Knight with a pitch. Brady McBride took over the mound at that point and immediately walked Pickerrell to load the corners before striking out Wilkerson to thwart the threat.
            Jake Bush and Ryan Shotts led off the bottom of the inning with base hits and advanced off May’s sac bunt, but Talley struck out Anderson before Chase Domino fouled out to end the frame.
            Both teams went three up, three down in the sixth; but Pearl River padded its lead in the seventh.
            Lead off Garcia walked, which prompted the mound exit of McBride for Mason Woodrow who immediately struck out Brown before walking Lee. Those were the only two batters Woodrow would face, as Conner West took over and walked Knight to load the bases. That set the stage for Pickerrell’s RBI single to center to make it 8-1 before West retired Wilkerson and Dungan for the final outs.
            The Warriors loaded the corners in the bottom of the frame, but couldn’t push a run home. Bush cracked a one-out, line-drive single to center before May walked an out later. After Talley hit Anderson with a pitch, Caleb Woods fouled out to end the inning.
            Pearl River iced the cake in the eighth. Pugh led off by reaching on an error, moved to second on a passed ball and on to third via Cannon’s ground out before scoring on a wild pitch. After West walked Garcia and Brown, Hunter Swart relieved and retired Lee before walking Knight to load the bases. Pickerrell followed with a two-run single via an error, while the Wildcats’ 12th and final run scored off a wild pick off throw to first. West K’d Wilkerson for the final out.
            Anthony Lusco of Bay High relieved Talley in the bottom of the frame, striking out two of the four batters he would face and gave up a one-out single to Franklin. After Harmon grounded out to short, the game ended via the mercy rule.
            Talley (9-4) got the win in his seven innings on the mound, giving up seven hits, striking out six, and walking one; while Lusco gave up a hit and struck out two in the eighth.
            Gonzales (6-2) got the loss in his one inning of action, giving up three hits and walking a batter; while Dubuisson went two-and-a-third, giving up five hits, striking out two, and walking two. Hendrix went one-and-a-third, giving up a hit and striking out one; McBride one-and-a-third, striking out three and walking two; Woodrow one-third of a frame, striking out one and walking one; West one inning, giving up a hit and walking three; and Swart two-thirds of an inning, striking out one and walking one.
            Pickerrell paced The River’s 10-hit attack with four singles (one RBI), while Lee had three base hits and Knight cracked two singles. Wilkerson also singled (one RBI), while Cannon, Dungan, and Pugh all had RBIs.
            ECCC finished with eight hits, led by Bush and Shotts with two singles each, while Berry doubled and Franklin, Harmon (one RBI), and May all had base hits.

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