By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
PONTOTOC – As so it seemed, the only coaching Nickey Browning had to do the past couple of days was to wave runners in from third base.
With Tuesday’s 14-3 championship game victory over Corinth in seven innings, Browning’s Pontotoc Red Sox team won all four of its games in this year’s American Legion State Tournament by 11 runs or more.
“I didn’t have to do a whole lot of coaching,” said Browning, whose team hosted the state tournament that began on Friday. “I just had to wave my arm mostly.”
The Red Sox (30-7) outscored Itawamba, Tupelo and Corinth 72-11 in the tournament. By winning the state tournament, the Pontotoc team advances to the Mid-South Regional in Grand Prairie, Texas, Aug. 5-9.
Pontotoc starter Blake O’Callaghan, who hadn’t pitched in more than a week, pitched six solid innings on Tuesday, holding Corinth (9-15) to three runs and seven hits while striking out eight. He walked just two batters, all in the first inning in which Corinth scored each of its three runs.
“I was a little rusty,” said O’Callaghan, who improved to 4-2 on the year, “but I finally found it (his command).”
But O’Callaghan was spotted with a 6-0 lead before he even stepped foot on the mound of Tuesday’s game.
With a 9-for-11 hitting performance through his team’s first three games of the tournament, Lee Wilson blasted a three-run homer to right center in the top of the first.
“I was looking for a fastball,” Wilson said of his first-inning at-bat, “It was a 2-0 count, so I was looking for something to drive.”
Three batters later, Jake Smithey found a pitch to drive, and he drove it beyond the right-field wall to make it 5-0 Pontotoc.
With his team just about out of pitching, Heath Wood made his first start of the Legion season for Corinth. He lasted four innings, allowing seven runs and seven hits while walking just one and hitting a batter.
“I was the only person left to pitch,” said Wood, who pitches for Kossuth High School, “because everybody else had been pitching in every game.”
Corinth advanced to the championship game by winning a couple of slugfests – 12-3 over the Hub City Junior team, 19-18 against Itawamba and 21-17 versus the Hub City Senior team.
“Actually, I was surprised,” Wood said about getting the start on Tuesday. “Coming in, it was either me or Tanner (McCollum).”
On Tuesday, though, it seemed like whoever Corinth was going to pitch would be in for a long night. Will Robertson only threw 1 1/3 innings after giving up five runs in relief of Wood.
Robertson did have a two-run single off the left-field wall to score two runs in the bottom of the first to help his fellow pitcher out, but O’Callaghan and Myles Snyder held Corinth scoreless the final six innings.
“They’re going to hit it hard somewhere,” Wood said of the powerful Pontotoc lineup that defeated Corinth 16-0 in the winners’ bracket final on Monday. “No matter what I throw up there, they’re going to hit it hard.”
In the fifth and sixth innings of Tuesday’s game, the Red Sox tallied four runs off wild pitches.
Wilson, who robbed Kyle Stephenson of a home run in the bottom of the first, scored off a double steal in the top of the sixth.
Phillip Tice and Smithey each had RBI singles, while Will Wallis had an RBI double in the top of the second. Wilson added a sacrifice fly to score Jeremy Ferguson in the top of the seventh.
“If you look at my lineup and then you look even at the players I have on the bench, I’ve got guys that have all signed or are going to sign (with colleges),” Browning said of his talented squad. “The only underclassmen I have are Jim Tom Copeland and Jay King.
“Most of these other kids are going on to college or even played in college. So, they kind of have an idea what this is all about.”
Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572 or firstname.lastname@example.org