EUNICE, La. – There were tears and hugs, along with a spontaneous round of applause from Wildcat fans that made the trip to the NJCAA Region 23 Baseball Tournament.
In the end, that was all Pearl River Community College could do after its vaunted pitching was savaged by a merciless Meridian offensive attack that overpowered the Wildcats 25-13 in the semifinal round of the tournament at Bengal Stadium on the campus of LSU-Eunice.
The loss ended fourth-ranked PRCC's season at 38-11, while No. 14 Meridian (38-12) advanced to play in the championship round at 3 p.m. Saturday.
"It's not this game I want to talk about; it's this season I want to talk about," said second-year Wildcat coach Michael Avalon.
"I'm very proud of this group. This is a special group of champions, winners. They left their mark on this program. This game was a very small part of our season. They've made Pearl River proud."
The Eagles started their onslaught in the top of the second inning off Wildcat sophomore Camden Dusang (Carriere).
Meridian sent 12 batters to the plate in the inning, scoring eight runs on just four hits – two triples, a double and a two-run home run – three walks, a hit batter and an error.
Pearl River tried its best to keep up offensively. The Wildcats scored five runs in the bottom of the second and five more in the third.
In the second, sophomore Bryson Medious (Columbia) drew a one-out walk, freshman Wiley Cleland (Columbia) smacked the first of his three singles on the day, and Medious scored when a throw back to second base to try to get Cleland went into the outfield.
After a groundout, freshman Luke Harper (Meridian) drove in Cleland with a single, and he went to third on a single by freshman Matt Taylor (Raleigh), and both runners came home when sophomore Derek Eberly (Blountstown, Fla.) hit a three-run home run to leftfield.
Meridian got those runs right back, though, in the top of the third, two coming in on a third triple in the game, by Trace Jordan.
PRCC made it a one-run game in the bottom of the third.
Once again, Medious drew a one-out walk and Cleland singled. Sophomore Scooter Ginn (Columbia) drove in one run with a single, Harper loaded the bases with a walk and Taylor got a run home when he as hit by a pitch.
Another run scored on a fielder's choice off the bat of Eberly and sophomore Simon Landry (Ponchatoula, La.) drove in two runs with a single.
The Eagles made it 12-10 in the fourth, but the Wildcats scored twice in the bottom of the fourth to tie it up. Freshman Shemar Page (Raleigh) led off with a walk, Cleland singled and Ginn drove in both runs with a double.
But Meridian regained the lead with a run in the fifth off sophomore Luke Bradley, who took the loss, then the roof caved in on the Wildcats.
Avalon went to ace reliever Colby White with one out in the fifth, much earlier than he planned, and White got a pair of quick outs to get out of the inning.
But in the sixth, the Eagles smoked everything White threw at them in a 12-run rally, on eight hits and a third Wildcat error. Capping the inning was a three-run inside-the-park home run by Milton Smith.
"Colby was hitting 92, 93 (mph), and they were lighting him up," said Avalon. "They just hit good pitches. We fired every bullet we had, and there's not much you can do when they're swinging the bats like they were."
It was the second game in the tournament that a nightmarish sixth inning doomed the Wildcats, and this one put the 10-run rule into effect.
PRCC got a run back in the bottom of the sixth, when freshman Noah Barron (Hoover, Ala.) was hit by a pitch leading off, took third on a single by Page and scored on a sacrifice fly by Cleland. But it was way too little, way too late.
Although the loss was disheartening, it didn't diminish the achievements by the 2018 Wildcats, who won the school's second MACJC State Championship, and PRCC will raise a championship flag to match the one from 2004.
"They took a big step for our program and they have a lot to be proud of," Avalon said. "This game, in the grand scheme of things, doesn't mean that much compared to that. They accomplished a lot, and we'll go back at it next year."
(Photo courtesy of LSU-Eunice Sports Information)
Pearl River freshman Luke Harper concentrates on an incoming pitch during action Thursday against Hinds in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament at Eunice, La.
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 Gulf Coast 5 (8 innings)
Game 6, LSU-Eunice 5, Itawamba 4 (11 innings)
Game 7, Mississippi Gulf Coast 14, Itawamba 1 (5 innings) (Itawamba eliminated)
Game 8, Meridian 25, Pearl River 13 (6 innings) (Pearl River eliminated)
Game 9, LSU-Eunice 13, Mississippi Gulf Coast 4 (7 innings) (Gulf Coast eliminated
3 p.m. – Game 10, Meridian (38-12) vs. LSU-Eunice (53-5)
1 p.m. – Game 11, Meridian vs. LSU-Eunice (if necessary)
PRCC BASEBALL LINESCORE
Friday at Eunice, La.
Meridian 25, Pearl River 13 (6 innings)
Meridian 083 11(12) – 25 17 2
Pearl River 055 201 – 13 13 3
MERIDIAN (38-12): Milton Smith HR (3-run, inside-the-park), 1B (6 RBIs); Trace Jordan 3B, 3 2B (4 RBIs); Davis Bradshaw 3B, 2 1B (4 RBIs); Sam McWilliams HR (2-run); Zack Carter 2B, 1B; Blake Morris 2B, 1B; Houston Parker 1B; C.J. Hughes 1B; Hunter Stanley 3B (3 RBIs). WP – Tyler Lantz (3-1). Also pitching – Luke Wallner (starter); Peter Holland; Logan McDowell.
PEARL RIVER (38-11): Matt Taylor 1B; Trenton Lee 1B; Derek Eberly HR (3-run), 1B (4 RBIs); Simon Landry 2 1B; Shemar Page 1B; Wiley Cleland 3 1B; Scooter Ginn 2B, 1B (3 RBIs); Luke Harper 1B. LP – Luke Bradley (0-1). Also pitching – Camden Dusang (starter); Jerod Meggs; Colin Danley; Colby White; Austin Elliott.