Meridian Star

Sports

May 16, 2014

Irby’s grand slam sets tone as Southeast advances to South State

MERIDIAN — Trailing 5-2 in the bottom of the fourth inning, Southeast Lauderdale High School’s Mason Irby stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out seeking to deliver a clutch base hit for his team.

The senior catcher not only delivered with a hit, but he put the Tigers ahead, 6-5, over West Marion High School, launching a first pitch curve ball over the center field wall.

“I was sitting on a curveball,” Irby said. “They threw it right down the middle and I swung as hard as I could.”

The home run sparked Southeast to a Game 3, 13-7 win over the Trojans and pushed the Tigers into a South State title matchup against Sumrall High School.

“Clutch is the best way to describe him,” Southeast Lauderdale coach Shay Cooper said of Irby. “That turned everything around. That turned the momentum and the attitude around. He’s been like that for three years now. If he doesn’t come through, then we’re surprised.”

Southeast would notch two more home runs in the game on its way to the win.

In the bottom of the sixth, senior Jake Smiller smacked a three-run home run that carried well beyond the 360-foot center field wall to put the Tigers ahead, 12-7. Two batters later, Irby belted his second home run of the game and gave the Tigers a commanding six run advantage.

“Jake had just hit a home run, so at that point it didn’t hurt to take a (big) hack, and that’s what I did,” Irby said.

After scoring just three runs combined in the first two games, a 3-2 Game 1 win and 4-0 Game 2 loss, The Tigers (21-11) pounded out ten hits in Game 3, including the three home runs.

“In the playoffs, everybody’s top (of the lineup) is good,” Cooper said. “You have to have contributions from everyone. Our bottom (of our lineup) came through. Those guys had some big hits tonight.”

West Marion had jumped out to a 5-0 advantage after just two innings.

“It would have been real easy for them to quit,” Cooper said. “We’ve had a tough time scoring runs off of them the entire series. The guys showed a lot of heart tonight. I’m proud of them, because it would have been easy to quit early in the game.”

SEL starting pitcher Nathan Ross struggled mightily and was replaced in the top of the third by junior Gage Ramey. Ramey, and junior Hunter Graham would combine to pitch five innings in relief, limiting the Trojans to just two runs the rest of the game.

“I just came in and did what my coaches told me to do,” Ramey said. “I just focused on keeping the ball low and throwing knee high strikes.

Added Cooper, “We were willing to go through everybody that we had if that’s what it took. We were going to back each other up. That’s the way you have to win playoff games. Ramey came in and shut the door, and then Graham picked him up.”

For West Marion (20-10), Adam Whalum finished 2-for-3 with a two-run home run and a double.

Southeast will host Sumrall at 7 p.m. today in Game 1 of the best-of-three series.

 “It was great to experience a (South State title) two years ago,” Irby said. “I’m just glad some of these (younger) players have a chance to get this experience.”

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