By Reed DeSalvo \ The Meridian Star
The Meridian Star
With the game tied, 7-7, and two runners on-base in the bottom of the fifth inning, Southeast Lauderdale High School’s Mason Irby lifted a fly ball down the left field line that fell just in front of a diving Kyle Porter of Morton High School, to drive in two runs and put the Tigers in front, 9-7. Southeast would go on to win, 14-7, and punch a ticket to the second round of the MHSAA playoffs, taking the best-of-three series over Morton, 2-1.
“He’s clutch,” Southeast Lauderdale coach Shay Cooper said of Irby. “He’s been that way since Day 1. That guy locks in at the plate. He’s got a great head for the game, and he handles the pressure better than anybody I’ve ever seen.”
The Tigers (19-10) managed to claw back to win the series after dropping the opener, 7-1, Thursday.
“We have a resilient attitude,” Irby said. “There’s been many games this year where we’ve been down, but we fight back and find a way to win .... We know that it’s never over until that last out is made.”
With the score tied 4-4 in the bottom of the fourth inning, Hunter Graham, who has lost playing time in recent games, delivered a go-ahead solo home run over the right center field wall. Irby followed Graham’s home run with one of his own, to put the Tigers ahead 6,4. Southeast would tack on a third run in the frame, when Gage Ramey trotted home following Austin’s Quigley sacrifice fly to right.
“This boosts our confidence level a lot,” he said. “That’s a good team that we played. They hit the ball really well.”
But Morton would not go away quietly. The Panthers responded with a three-run blast off the bat of Tyler Hines over the left field wall to tie the game, 7-7.
“We battled hard,” Morton coach Miles Porter said. “Southeast is a well coached baseball team. They have a class act leading them in Shay Cooper. “This group of kids set the pattern. They worked hard in the weight room, they worked hard long-tossing.”
In the bottom of the frame, Irby delivered on his two-run double.
"We threw a couple of breaking pitches during that at bat that could have been called strikes," Porter said. "I think the umpire felt the pressure a little bit. But it wasn't meant to be."
In the top of the sixth, the Panthers attempted to mount one last rally by loading the bases with just one out, but Graham managed to induce a strikeout and a ground out to the next two batters.
“He kind of jump started things,” Cooper said. “We fed off of him. I’m proud of Hunter, because he could have dropped his head, but he didn’t. He came out today and really helped us.”
The Tigers put the game, and the series, away with a five-run sixth inning, highlighted by Gage Ramsey’s two-out, two RBI single to center.
“Even though we didn’t do a bunch of things right, we were able to scrap away and find a way to win,” Irby said. “We’re now in a position that we’d like to be in.”
Southeast will begin a best-of-three game series against West Marion High School set to start Friday.
“We have got to catch the baseball better,” Cooper said. “With our hitting, we were able to overcome some errors today. But in Game 1, that’s what killed us. We didn’t make enough of the routines play. You can’t give teams extra outs, not at this time of year.
“You have to make the routine plays.”