By Brad Greer
If Thursday night was the last time to pitch before the home crowd, David Renfroe might have saved his best performance for last.
The senior right-hander struck out 13 while surrendering three hits in six innings of work as South Panola downed No. 4 Tupelo 6-1 in front of a packed crowd in the Tigers regular season home finale’.
The victory wrapped up a second place finish in Region 2-5A and guaranteed the Tigers a first-round home game Thursday night against Greenville-Weston at 5 p.m. The three team double-elimination tournament will then move to Southaven Friday and Saturday.
Tupelo, (19-6; 6-3) meanwhile secured the top spot in the region standings by winning the season series over the Tigers.
The Golden Wave threatened to score first in the top of the first inning as they put runners on first and third with one out, but came away empty-handed as Renfroe fanned the next two batters to retire the side.
South Panola, (14-7; 6-3) would then give Renfroe all the run support he would need in the bottom half of the frame by scoring three runs on one hit and two errors. Renfroe drew a leadoff walk then went to second on a wild pitch. Tupelo starting pitcher Lex Rutledge then struck out Joseph Blair but the ball got past catcher Gabe Richey who in turn sailed a throw over the first basemen’s head into right field that allowed courtesy runner Zach Horne to score from second.
Ethan Bright followed with a RBI single that drove in courtesy runner Andrew Horne for a 2-0 Tiger lead. Rutledge then struck out the next two batters and looked to be out of the inning when he fanned Corbin Moore, but the ball got past Richey who again threw wildly past first base to allow Bright to cross the plate.
The score stayed that way until the top of the fifth when Tupelo’s Kyle Graham reached on a two-out infield single. Renfroe then walked Ritchey and gave up a single to leadoff hitter Collin Dexter that loaded the bases. Renfroe then hit John Gatlin to force in a run to make it 3-1.
The Golden Wave then ran themselves out of the inning as on the next pitch Gatlin got caught in a rundown between first and second. Ritchey, who was on third base during the play, broke for home plate only to have Tiger shortstop Joey Gabbard throw a strike to Blair that nailed Ritchey at home to end the inning.
“We really wanted this game bad. We knew if we could win we would host a playoff game and getting a little bit of home field advantage. Now we can play our game and hopefully come out with a win, “ said Renfroe. ”I was a little mad that I did not get to throw the whole game tonight, but Ethan (Bright) came in and did a great job finishing up. We’re proud of the offense tonight and everybody gave a fantastic effort. “
Whatever momentum the Golden Wave had quickly evaporated shortly thereafter as South Panola answered back when Lee Self led off the fifth with a solo homerun, the first in his high school career, over the right-centerfield wall to give the Tigers a 4-1 lead.
“Coach (Robey) told me when I was on deck the inning before that he (Rutledge) was struggling with his curve and to look for a fastball and that is what he threw me. It was right down the middle of the plate,“ said Self, who circled the bases at full speed before being mobbed at home by his teammates.
Afterwords, Self admitted he needed some work on his home run trot.
“I did not have a clue what I was doing out there. All I wanted to do is make sure I touched all the bases.”
Tiger head coach Patrick Robey said while he was proud of all of his players for the win, Self’s round-trip was especially satisfying.
“I am so proud of Lee. I just cannot say enough about how much he means to this team. He has always had an excellent attitude every time he steps on the field. He has done everything I have asked him from pitching in JV games to pinch-running. I knew when the ball left his bat it was gone.” said Robey.
South Panola would add two more runs in the inning on a pair of Tupelo errors to close out scoring. Dane Broome followed Self’s dinger with a walk. After a Renfroe popout, Blair and Bright reached on errors to load the bases. After Matt Hendrix walked to force in a run, Rutledge plucked Whit Whitten to force in yet another run.
Bright then relived Renfroe in the seventh inning by facing three batters, striking out one.