EUNICE, La. – Derek Eberly felt he had something to prove Friday afternoon in the NJCAA Region 23 Baseball Tournament.
Eberly, the sophomore shortstop for Pearl River Community College, had a nightmarish game on Thursday, committing two costly errors in the Wildcats' 16-6 loss to Mississippi Gulf Coast.
But he responded in a must-win game with three singles, driving three runs to lead the Wildcats to a come-from-behind 8-4 victory over Hinds in Game 4 of the tournament at Bengal Stadium on the LSU-Eunice campus.
PRCC (38-10) survived to play at 3 p.m. Friday against Meridian in another elimination game. Meridian drubbed Mississippi Gulf Coast 13-5 in Thursday's second game. Hinds finished its season 29-21.
"I was real motivated after having a tough day (Wednesday), probably my worst all year," said Eberly, the Blountstown, Fla., product who transferred to Pearl River from Chipola (Fla.) College.
"I felt a lot more comfortable today. I had a pregame routine I hadn't tried before. I went out as soon as we got there and just tried to visualize everything, and go through in my mind what I needed to do."
The Wildcats looked like they were in danger of going two-and-done after the Eagles scored three runs in the top of the fifth inning to take a 4-1 lead.
Starters Patrick Hodges for Hinds and freshman Miles Smith (Laurel) for PRCC battled through three scoreless innings before Hinds scored an unearned run in the fourth after back-to-back errors to open the inning.
Smith was able to limit the damage in the fourth, and the Wildcats promptly tied it up in the bottom of the inning on a leadoff single by freshman Noah Barron (Hoover, Ala.), who stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a ground ball to second.
However, Smith wasn't able to get out of the fifth, allowing back-to-back walks, followed by back-to-back RBI singles and a run-scoring sacrifice fly.
Redshirt sophomore Drake Nightengale (Sumrall) came out of the bullpen to get the final out of the inning and was light's out the rest of the way, allowing just two hits, striking out six, walking one and he had one hit batter.
"I just wanted to keep us in the ball game, throw up a lot of zeroes and give us a chance to come back," said Nightengale, who improved his record to 4-0.
And the Wildcats did just that, starting with one out in the bottom of the sixth. Freshman Shemar Page (Raleigh) drew a walk, and freshman Wiley Cleland (Columbia) sent the first pitch he saw over the leftfield fence for a two-run home run.
"I think it was a slider, and it was elevated on the outer half of the plate," said Cleland of his third homer of the season. "I knew I hit it well, but I don't know if it was going out. That got us back started again."
PRCC played small-ball to perfection in tying the game in the seventh. Freshman Matt Taylor (Raleigh) led off the inning with a single, freshman Trenton Lee (Picayune) sacrificed Taylor to second, a wild pitch moved the runner to third and Eberly brought him home with a single.
The Wildcats finally took command in the bottom of the eighth after Nightengale got a strikeout to end the top half of the inning after the Eagle got a pair of two-out base-runners.
Cleland walked to lead off the inning, then slid in safe at second after a throw to the bag on a sacrifice bunt by sophomore Scooter Ginn (Columbia) pulled second baseman off the bag for an error. PRCC loaded the bases after another error at third base.
Lee hit a high bouncer over shortstop to score the go-ahead runs and Eberly followed with another two-run single.
"Who knows why we've looked the way we have; I don't know that we'll ever find an answer," said PRCC coach Michael Avalon. "But the bottom line is, we found a way to respond. That's what it takes at these times, for guys to step up in big moments."
Sophomore relief ace Colby White (Foxworth) was ready in the bullpen, but Avalon chose to send Nightengale back out to finish it, and he did it with flair. He got two quick outs, then surrendered a double, but recorded the final out on comeback line drive right into his glove.
"Coach said it was up to me," said Nightengale. "If it had been one run, they'd have gone to Colby. But when we got the big lead, they wanted me back out there to save him for (Friday).".
Friday's winner between PRCC and Meridian advances to the tournament championship round on Saturday. The regional champion qualifies to play in the NJCAA Division II World Series, which begins May 26 at Enid, Okla.
NJCAA Region 23 Tournament
At Eunice, La.
Game 1, Itawamba 4, Meridian 3
Game 2, Mississippi Gulf Coast 16, Pearl River 6 (8 innings)
Game 3, LSU-Eunice 10, Hinds 0 (5 innings)
Game 4, Pearl River 8, Hinds 4 (Hinds eliminated)
Game 5, Meridian 13, Mississippi Gul Coast 5 (8 innings)
Game 6, LSU-Eunice (51-5) vs. Itawamba (33-15), late.
Noon – Game 7, Mississippi Gulf Coast (35-15) vs. LSUE-Itawamba loser; 3 p.m. – Game 8, Meridian (37-12) vs. Pearl River (38-10); 6 p.m. – Game 9, LSUE-Itawamba winner vs. Gulf Coast-Game 6 loser
3 p.m. – Game 10, Game 8 winner vs. Game 9 winner.
1 p.m. – Game 11, Game 10 winner vs. Game 10 loser (if necessary)
PRCC BASEBALL LINESCORE
Thurssday at Eunice, La.
Pearl River 8, Hinds 4
Hinds 000 130 000 – 4 7 3
PRCC 000 102 14x – 8 9 2
HINDS (28-21): Ryan Crowley 1B; Javante Dorris 1B; Andrew Beesley 2B, 2 1B; Luke Clement 2 1B. LP – Jase Dalton (4-3). Also pitching – Patrick Hodges (starter); Austin Booth; Noah Hughes; J.P. Elkins.