By David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal
FULTON – The Itawamba Community Indians made all the right moves on Thursday against the Gulf Coast Bulldogs.
Big hits and clutch pitching by the Indians in Game 1 of the MACJC State Tournament moved the host team to a 9-4 victory over the Bulldogs, advancing ICC in the winners bracket.
“The first thing I said to the team after the game was that we punched our ticket to the Region XXIII Tournament,” said Itawamba coach Rick Collier, whose Indians qualified for further post-season play with the victory. “But while we’re here, let’s go win a state title.”
With the win, ICC will play at 3 p.m. today against Hinds, which beat Jones 6-4 earlier Thursday.
Itawamba (38-9) bats amassed 15 hits, including home runs by Cody Shrewbury of Tupelo and Jake Smithey of Pontotoc. Shrewsbury’s shot in the fifth inning was key, tying the contest at 3-3.
Gulf Coast (27-18) had moved to a 3-0 lead in the top half of the frame on RBI hits by Ben Slatton and Daniel Mills. The ICC rally in the bottom of the inning was almost snuffed out by a double play, but Tupelo’s Williams Goss kept the inning alive with an RBI hit, followed by Shrewsbury’s homer.
“When Shrewsbury hit that homer, you could see it, the team relaxed,” Collier said.
Then Itawamba put the clamps on Gulf Coast.
Goss picked up another three RBIs with run-scoring hits in the sixth and eighth innings. And Smithey hit his home run in the seventh as ICC scored six runs in those three frames.
“I got a fastball I was able to drive,” Smithey said. “This was a very important win because we get to go to regionals, and we’re one win from the championship game.”
The Indians’ offensive effort backed the solid pitching effort of Tupelo’s Ben Hudspeth, who hurled 72/3 innings. Myles Synder from North Pontotoc closed out the contest.
“I knew our offense would come around,” Hudspeth said. “This win is huge, we’re only two wins away from a state championship.”
The schedule today includes Jones and Gulf Coast at noon, with the winner of that contest against the loser of the ICC-Hinds game at 6 p.m.