All celebration of Tupelo High’s 11th-hour comeback against Madison Central in the Class 5A baseball semifinals stopped when the bus pulled off the Natchez Trace late Monday night.
Tuesday was another working day, as the pitching-depleted Golden Wave turned its attention to the season’s final foe. Tupelo (27-10) takes on South champion Pascagoula (29-4) today at 4 p.m. in the first game of the best-of-three Class 5A championship series. Game 2 will be Saturday at Pascagoula with a third game to follow, if necessary.
Six different pitchers saw action as the semifinal series was pushed back to Monday by rain. “We had to throw them to get to the finals,” Tupelo coach Larry Harmon said.
Today’s starter will depend on who was feeling good at practice Tuesday. The only guarantee, Harmon said, is that it won’t be Mel McElroy, Justin Bounds or Reed Hawkins. Those three pitched the most Monday.
Harmon says the pitching will take care of itself.
“You have to look at the pitching, but if the ball is put in play, then you have the chance to catch it,” he said. “We’ll find someone and go as long as we can with whoever is effective.”
Expect the Panthers to go as long as they can with junior Blair Varnes (13-0, 1.56 ERA), a power pitcher clocked in the low 90s. Varnes has 114 strikeouts and only 16 walks in 81 innings.
In Game 2 Pascagoula will throw John Jordan (9-1, 1.70), whose only loss was against nationally-ranked New Hope in the McComb tournament.
“They are both quality high school pitchers,” Harmon said.
Varnes, who plays first base when not pitching, is hitting .361 with four home runs and 31 RBIs. Center fielder Enrico Jones is the team’s leading hitter with a .369 average.
Tupelo is making its fourth appearance in the finals this decade and first since winning the second of back-to-back championships in 1993.
“We challenged our guys and asked them if they were satisfied with winning the North,” Harmon said. “They believe they can win it.
“As coaches we felt like 5A was wide open, and whoever got hot would have the opportunity to win it. We’re glad to have that opportunity, and we’re not going down without a fight.”