POPLARVILLE, Miss. — The No. 3 Pearl River Wildcats used seven home runs and shutdown performances from eight pitchers Sunday to sweep its way into sole possession of first place in the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference standings. After topping Mississippi Delta 6-3 in Game 1, the Wildcats took Game 2 10-1 at Dub Herring Park.
The sweep, Pearl River's 12th of the season, moved the Wildcats out of a tie with Itawamba.
"We started off hot and we finished hot. We'll take that," Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said. "We pitched well and we had a pretty good feeling that we were going to throw well today. A lot of guys threw really well. A big time start from Eric Newsome really set the tone early. Swistak pitched about as good as I have seen him pitch, and our relievers all threw well. It was a good day. Man, it's fun to be here playing at the Dub."
The Wildcats (29-7 overall; 19-5 MACCC) scored all six of their runs in the first three innings of the opener Sunday.
PRCC put up a four-spot in the first thanks to back-to-back homers from Tate Parker (Gulfport; West Harrison) and Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison). Parker's three-run blast put him all alone for the team lead in homers — at least until Game 2.
Nick Skaggs (Biloxi) turned in one of the best catches of the season to end the top of the second. The right fielder took off after a rapidly sinking foul ball down the line and lunged. Skaggs nabbed the ball about six feet into foul territory while running full speed and rode the turf like a Slip-N-Slide all the way into the bullpen fence another 15 feet away.
"He hit it and off the bat I didn't think I was going to get to it," Skaggs said. "Then I looked, started running again and I saw the fence. I wasn't exactly sure where it cut off but I said 'to heck with it' and dove. It was pretty wild."
The softball and soccer teams were lively all day but the Wildcats erupted after the unbelievable grab.
"I had to point to them after the grab," Skaggs said. "They were hyping me up. It gave me goosebumps."
Following a Dalton Cummins (Seminary) walk and Austen Izzio double (Carriere; Pearl River Central), Taylor Woodcock (Pass Christian; West Harrison) emptied the bases in his first game back in nearly a month due to injury. The triple pushed Pearl River ahead 6-0.
The Trojans attempted to get back in the game in the sixth, plating two but the Wildcats turned their second of three double plays to stop the bleeding with a 6-2 lead.
MDCC (12-20, 8-16) got another run back in the eighth but closer Landon Harper (Lauderdale; Northeast Lauderdale) retired the Trojans in order in the ninth to secure the win.
Parker and Woodcock led PRCC at the plate, tallying two hits apiece.
Entering Sunday, the versatile Eric Newsom (Madison; Germantown) had pitched 5 2/3 innings combined. The Tennessee Tech commit turned in a gem for PRCC on Sunday, scattering two runs on four hits and one walk in a season-long five innings. He also struck out three.
"I wanted the baseball bad," Newsom said. "I wanted to give us a good start against Delta. My pitches felt good today and my defense helped me out."
In between Newsom and Harper, Dawson Strong (Bay St. Louis; St. Stanislaus), Shelby Terrell (Foxworth; West Marion) and Ryan Burt (Columbus; New Hope) all pitched, combining to surrender just one run on two hits and two walks.
Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the first the Wildcats quickly retaliated, scoring Crawford from third on a wild pitch and then plating Parker on a Newsom groundout for the 2-1 lead.
The Wildcats broke out in the second inning, hitting three consecutive home runs. Woodcock led things off with a two-run shot. John Griffin Bell (Mobile, Ala.; Faith Academy) hit a solo shot before Crawford launched his 13th of the season.
Donaldson added to the Wildcats' power surge in the third when he led off the frame with a solo homer — for his 13th homer of the year. The round tripper gave Donaldson 31 homers in his Pearl River career.
After Parker legged out an infield single that scored PRCC's seventh run of the game in the fourth, Donaldson just missed his third homer of the day and had to settle for a RBI-double and an 8-1 lead. One batter later Newsom launched a two-run homer over the elevated center field wall for a 10-1 lead.
Donaldson, Bell and Matt Mercer (Petal) led the Wildcats at the plate with two hits apiece. Newsom drove in a team-high three runs.
Turner Swistak (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove) was two outs shy of a career-long outing Sunday. The freshman right-hander called his five-inning performance the best of his young collegiate career. Swistak scattered one run on three hits and one walk while striking out four.
"I think that was my best start of the year," Swistak said. "Everything felt great and I was able to pitch well. My slider and changeup were working well tonight."
Landon Rawson (Kosciusko; Central Holmes Academy) and Parker Harrington (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove) pitched the final two innings, allowing one walk.
In addition to PRCC's three double plays in Game 1, the Wildcats turned two more in Game 2.
"Woody is back. Athletically, that's as good as I've seen this team," Avalon said. "If we keep defending like that, we will have a lot of success moving forward.
"That's the other good thing about playing at home. It's a good place to play defense."
Woodcock, who hasn't played since being hit in the face with a pitch March 20 at East Mississippi, finished his first doubleheader in nearly a month by going 3-for-5.
"He plays hard," Avalon said. "When you coach guys that everyone on the team wants to be out there that's special. Everyone wants Woody to play. That's what he does every day, and he brings the energy. He's our glue.
"You saw today how much better we play when he is out there. I'm glad he's a Wildcat."
Being out due to injury, Woodcock said, gave the Louisiana Tech signee a greater appreciation for the game.
"I just don't take the game for granted anymore," he said. "Being out for four weeks showed and taught me a lot.
"This place is special."
The Wildcats continue their homestand next week with two more doubleheaders at The Dub. PRCC hosts Jones College for the 'Cat Fight' on the diamond on Tuesday. First pitch is at 3 p.m. Pearl River then hosts Northeast at 2 p.m. Saturday. The doubleheader against NEMCC will also serve as Sophomore Day for Pearl River. Prior to the game, the Wildcat Kids Club will host its first event behind The Dub from 12:30-2 p.m. Entry is free for all children 13 and under. PRCC mascot W.C. Rivers will also be on hand in addition to plenty of activities like face painting, bean bag toss, crawling tunnels, hoola hoops and much more. If you have a child who's not already a member of the club, sign up for free by visiting the PRCCAthletics.com/WildcatKidsClub.
All home games can be livestreamed for free by visiting PRCCMedia.com. Fans with a Roku or Amazon Fire device can also watch Wildcat athletics by downloading the "Pearl River CC" channel from the app store.
by Patrick Ochs
Pearl River Community College
Director of Marketing & Communications