POPLARVILLE, Miss. — The No. 2 Pearl River Wildcats had to play to the final out Friday to earn two very different victories over Holmes at Dub Herring Park. After run-ruling HCC 10-0 in five innings in Game 1, the Wildcats had to push across a late run in the nightcap for a 3-2 win.
"What makes this league so tough and people don't understand about junior college baseball is you play a doubleheader and there is no guarantee Game 1 is going to be like Game 2 and vice versa. Today is a perfect example," Avalon said. "We won the first game in an hour and 11 minutes and then we had to battle in Game 2."
The sweep marks the official midway point of the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference schedule.
The Pearl River Wildcats (21-5 overall, 11-3 MACCC) showed why they're leading the nation in homers in the first game. Scoring nine of their first 10 runs on homers, PRCC led the Bulldogs 10-0 through three innings.
Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison) opened things in the first with a three-run homer over the right field wall. Austen Izzio (Carriere; Pearl River Central) doubled in another run in the bottom of the first.
The Wildcats tacked on three more runs in the second with one swing from Graham Crawford (Sumrall).
Dalton Cummins (Seminary) swatted a two-run homer and John Griffin Bell (Mobile, Ala.; Faith Academy) immediately followed it up with a solo homer to extend the Wildcats' lead to 10-0.
Reid Reynolds (Heidelberg; Northeast Jones) put together a gem, holding Holmes hitless through 3 2/3 innings. Reynolds ultimately scattered two hits and one walk over five innings for the complete game victory. The sophomore also struck out five in his first start of the season.
"I felt good," Reynolds said. "I've struggled a little bit this year but to command the zone like I was — it felt really good."
Holmes (5-17, 3-13) opened the scoring in Game 2 but a Matt Mercer (Petal) sacrifice fly in the second tied it up 1-1.
A solo homer in the third put HCC back on top 2-1.
With the infield drawn in, Mercer singled up the middle in the bottom of the fourth to score Izzio and tie the game 2-2.
Pearl River pulled ahead in the bottom of the sixth. After loading the bases, Bell hit a deep fly ball that allowed D.K. Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison) to cross home.
The top of the seventh got interesting. Reliever Dakota Lee (Purvis) opened the frame with a strikeout but the Bulldogs worked the bases loaded with two walks and a single.
Lee clamped down on the sixth HCC batter of the inning, striking out the final Bulldog looking to secure the sweep.
"Dakota Lee put himself in that situation with some walks; we're not going to be perfect," Avalon said. "But making those pitches in that situation was big."
Where PRCC made the most of its hits in Game 1, hitting four homers on seven hits, base knocks were once again at a premium in Game 2 as the Wildcats only collected five hits as a group.
Both Izzio and D.K. Donaldson led PRCC in hits with two apiece. Izzio finished with three hits on the day, including two doubles.
"Austen had a heckuva day today," Avalon said. "He was the best guy we had today at the plate. That's what we've seen this year, with a different guy stepping up every game, and that's what makes this lineup so special."
Jacob Scherer (Mandeville, La.; St. Paul's) struck out two over 1 1/3 innings in the start. Trace McNabb (Foxworth; West Marion) surrendered one run in his lone inning of work before turning the game over to Landon Harper (Meridian; Northeast Lauderdale). The hard-throwing right-hander struck out a game-high five over 3 2/3 scoreless innings, surrendering only two hits and one walk before giving the game to Lee.
Former Pearl River fan favorite Drake Nightengale was welcomed back to The Dub on Friday to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
"It's a huge honor," Nightengale said. "Pearl River meant the world to me. It's awesome to be back here. This is my home."
Nightengale is a classic PRCC story where he was lightly recruited out of high school with only two JUCO offers. Due to an injury, Nightengale ended up spending three seasons at PRCC. The extended stay paid off as South Alabama ultimately offered the right-hander.
After graduating from PRCC following the 2018 season, Nightengale went on to star at USA and is currently a New York Mets prospect.
Next up for Nightengale is spring training in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
The Wildcats are currently scheduled to visit Hinds on Tuesday for a 3 p.m. first pitch. Should the schedule change, visit PRCCAthletics.com for the latest on the Wildcats' calendar.
BY: Patrick Ochs
Pearl River Community College
Director of Marketing & Communications