By Brad Greer
After leaving seven base runners in scoring position through the first four innings of their home opener against Cleveland Tuesday night, South Panola head baseball coach Patrick Robey knew in the back of his mind his club was due a big inning.
That inning came in the bottom of the fifth as the Tigers strung together four consecutive hits that produced four runs. Coupling that with strong pitching performances by Whit Whitten, Colton Ales and David Renfroe was enough to lift South Panola to a 4-1 win over the Wildcats in the Wes Smythe Classic.
Whitten was chosen as the game’s Most Valuable Player. He pitched four innings, allowing three hits and no runs. At bat he was two for two with a double and a single.
“I knew we were capable of a big inning, but in the first four innings our hitters had poor approaches at the plate. Some of the guys wanted to pull the ball instead of going the other way with it. But in the fifth inning we were finally able to make some adjustments and string a few hits together,” said Robey.
In a scoreless game going into the bottom of the fifth, Senior second basemen Tyler Benson led off with a triple into right. Ethen Bright and Renfroe then followed with back-to-back RBI doubles to stake the Tigers to a 2-0 lead. Catcher Joseph Blair delivered a single up the middle to chase home Renfroe for the third run of the inning. The final run of the night came as courtesy runner Dennis Draper raced home on a delayed steal.
That would be more than enough run support for Ales and Renfroe as the duo struck out nine Wildcat batters over the next three innings to preserve the win. Ales picked up the win by going two innings in relief of starting pitcher Whitten. The senior lefty give up two hits while striking out six. Renfroe closed out the game by pitching the seventh, giving up the only run on a lead-off triple and later uncorking a wild pitch.
The first four innings saw a pitchers duel between Whitten and Cleveland right- hander Reid Hatcher as both hurlers wiggled themselves in and out of trouble throughout the game.
South Panola loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the first, but Hatcher struck out Robby Brown swinging on a 3-2 count to end the inning. Cleveland in turn loaded the sacks full in the top of the second with one out. Whitten caught No.9 hitter Jake Linkous looking at strike three on a full count for the second out and then made perhaps the play of the game by throwing out leadoff hitter Emery Skelton on a swinging bunt to retire the side.
“I really think that was the turning point of the game right there,” said Robey. Whitten fell behind 3-0 on the batter with the bases full and came back to get the strike out then he bounces off the mound and throws the guy out at first to end the inning. He gave us four strong innings and Ales came in there and did a tremendous job as did David in the last inning.”
Cleveland threatened again in the top of the third by putting runners of second and third with one out. Hatcher stepped up and hit a lazor to third that Bright stabbed and threw to Benson at second base doubleing up Taylor Boggs to end the inning.
Renfroe led the South Panola at the plate with a double and a pair of singles. Whitten followed with a double and single to go with a RBI. Bright doubled while Benson, Blair and Corbin Moore singled in the Tigers nine-hit attack.
South Panola, (1-1) will make a 5 1/2 hour trek to the gulf coast today to take part in the Gulfport tournament. The Tigers will face Long Beach today before taking on Ridgeland and host team Gulfport tomorrow. South Panola will then travel to Cleveland Tuesday before returning home Friday against Olive Branch.