Chance Whitten’s two-out, two-run double in the eighth inning lifted visiting East Central Community College to a 4-3 victory over eighth-ranked East Mississippi Community College Friday night in game one of an MACJC baseball playoff series being held at EMCC’s Gerald Poole Field.
Game 2 of the best-of-three playoff series is set for a 2 p.m. start Saturday with a third and deciding game, if necessary, immediately following. Saturday’s action will be video-streamed live on www.EMCCAthletics.com/live.
East Central got on the scoreboard first when leadoff hitter Maxwell Harmon greeted EMCC starting pitcher Andrew Crane with a solo blast over the left-field wall. Later in the first, the defending MACJC state baseball champions picked up an unearned run when Kyle McCullouch singled home Dylan Little, who reached base on an infield single and advanced to second via an errant throw on the putout attempt before being driven home.
As Crane settled in by throwing five subsequent scoreless innings of no-hit baseball following the two-run first, the Lions claimed their first lead of the game with a three-run sixth. After Chase Nyman led off the frame with a single, LeDarious Clark tied the game at 2-2 with a two-run blast to left-center field off ECCC starting pitcher Kale Fultz. The homer was Clark’s fourth of the year and ninth of his collegiate career. Following a two-out walk to Trent Waddell, Tyler Odom greeted reliever Conner West with a go-ahead RBI double off the left-field wall.
The Lions carried their precarious 3-2 lead into the eighth with sophomore closer Conner Burton on the mound. The inning started off innocently enough for EMCC with two quick outs. McCullouch’s infield single was followed by a walk to Cody Daigle to set up Whitten’s eventual game-winning double to the opposite field that plated both McCullouch and pinch-runner Gage Sullivan.
East Mississippi managed to get the potential tying run to third base during each of the final two innings but could not produce the clutch hit. Odom’s fly out to right field stranded Chase Reeves at third in the eighth, while Nyman got caught looking at a full-count third strike thrown by Will Myers to end the contest with pinch-hitter Blake Key at third.
Head coach Chris Rose’s EMCC Lions, MACJC North Division baseball champions for the first time since 1998, fell to 31-12 overall with just their fourth home loss of the season. The East Central Warriors, seeded fourth in the MACJC’s South Division, improved to 21-24 with the series-opening victory.