By Brandon Speck/NEMS Daily Journal
Pontotoc and Tupelo both know how to win the American Legion State Tournament. They’ve won the last two.
The tournament returns to Tupelo on Thursday, where the hosts won it last season after flooding forced the finale from Hattiesburg. The Niners then won their first Mid-South Regional championship before losing the World Series in the 13th inning of the championship game in North Carolina.
“I think anybody can win the tournament. It just depends which club is playing well,” Pontotoc coach Nickey Browning said.
Pontotoc won two seasons ago. The two teams could meet Friday morning if the Red Sox win their 4 p.m. opener against Corinth on Thursday. Hattiesburg and Itawamba play at 7:30 on Thursday.
Pitching is of obvious importance to win the double elimination, five-team field. With nine-inning games and doubleheaders Friday, it’s magnified.
“It’s very different. You wouldn’t think just two extra innings changes things so much but it really does,” said Tupelo coach Kirk Presley.
Chase Hill and Ben Aldridge have led the Niners on the mound while Hill and Tanner Poole have led the way at the plate. Former Tupelo High teammates McKamy Smith and Brayden Owen have also thrown well.
“If you start having to burn two, three or four pitchers early in the tournament, that can hurt you pretty quick,” Presley said.
Tupelo beat Pontotoc 3-2 on Sunday to close the regular-season schedule with a 15-13 mark. Ten games were lost due to rain over the past two weeks.
Pontotoc finished 9-14, its last two games both losses on Sunday by one run in the bottom of the seventh inning, the way Browning said it went too often for the Red Sox, which lost five or six times by one run in the past couple of weeks, four of those in the last inning.
“We’ve been playing a whole lot better,” he said. “We just didn’t have a lot of pitching back, That’s what really hurt. We’ve played well last two or three weeks.”
Hayden Stegall has been the leading hitter this season, with Kyle Robbins, Will Faulkner, Jacob Shempert and Tyler Dowdy the most consistent on the mound.