PONTOTOC – The third-game suspense of the state playoffs lasted, oh, maybe ten minutes. Or until Pontotoc’s Cory Armstrong got to the plate.
Armstrong crushed a three-run homer in the bottom of the first inning Tuesday afternoon and Pontotoc easily eliminated Leland 14-2 in five innings.
The win improved Ben Patterson’s club to 25-6 and pushed them into the Class 3A semifinals for the seventh time in the past 12 years. The Warriors will host 30-0 Hollandale-Simmons at 5 p.m. Thursday in the opener of a best-of-three series.
Leland (19-13) pushed across an unearned run in the top of the first inning, temporarily leaving the issue in doubt.
“How they (Leland) start is crucial to how they play,” Patterson said. “After we gave them a run, it was very important for us to answer them. Armstrong’s blow was the game’s biggest hit.”
After Larry Beckley drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, Armstrong unloaded a three-run blast over the fence in left-center field. That was more than enough for Armstrong, who limited Leland to three singles on the hill.
“Armstrong has pitched a lot of big games for us and he pitches well in the big games,” Patterson said. “He threw strikes and for the most part, we backed him up like we’re supposed to.”
Pontotoc, getting at least one hit from every slot in the batting order, gradually pulled away. The Warriors tacked on four runs in the second inning and ended it dramatically in the fifth on Myron Hereford’s grand-slam homer.
“We were focused today,” Hereford said. “We didn’t want the season to end. We didn’t play too good down there (splitting two games) and we wanted to show them what we had here at our place.”
While Hereford and Armstrong combined for seven RBIs, Grant Andrews, Kevin Bean and Beckley had doubles. Jason Dyer had a key two-run single to highlight the second frame and the Warriors made three outstanding running catches in the outfield to spark the defensive effort.
“We know Hollandale-Simmons is undefeated, but we feel good about having the first game here,” said Hereford, a three-year starter for the Warriors. “We just need to come out and play like we’re supposed to.”
Patterson said, “They’re a quality program and we’ve played them a lot through the years. We’ll go with (Kevin) Bean on the mound and if they’re good enough to beat us twice, then they should be the team that goes on and plays for a state championship.”
Leland 110 00 – 2 3 2
Pontotoc 460 04 – 14 12 1
WP Cory Armstrong. LP Devontay Carter. Multiple hits – (P) Grant Andrews 2, Kevin Bean 2. 2B – (P) Grant Andrews, Larry Beckley, Kevin Bean. HR – (P) Cory Armstrong, Myron Hereford (grand-slam). Records: Pontotoc 25-6. Leland 19-13.
Notes: Pontotoc hosts undefeated Hollandale-Simmons Thursday at 5 p.m. in the 3A North finals.