By Blake Long/Special to the Journal
JACKSON – With Blake McMullen slumping at the plate, Southeast Lauderdale coach Shay Cooper moved the senior from the three-spot in the batting order to No. 5 as the playoffs got under way.
The move paid dividends for the Tigers in the Class 3A state championship series. McMullen hit two doubles and drove in four runs in Southeast Lauderdale’s 6-3 series-clinching win Wednesday at Smith-Wills Stadium.
Cooper said he made the move to bring hotter hitters up in the lineup, and once he saw how well McMullen worked with four-hole hitter Mason Irby he did not want to mess with the combination.
“Blake is not a number five-hole hitter, Blake’s a three-hole hitter,” Cooper said. “But once we got to winning and kept playing we didn’t want to change anything because it just seemed like things were working and we were kind of jelling a little bit.”
The duo in the middle of Southeast Lauderdale’s lineup hit a combined .588 in the three-game series and drove in over half of the Tigers’ runs. Irby went 5 for 8 with three RBI and McMullen knocked in six runs while going 5 for 9 at the plate.
Irby knocked the go-ahead run across in the top of the seventh of Game 3 on a single while McMullen added two insurance runs with his second double immediately afterward.
“It surprised me the first time they put me in the five-hole, but it works good for us,” said McMullen. “He gets more pitches to hit and I get more pitches to hit.”
Kossuth coach Daniel Threadgill said they might not have put enough focus on Irby and McMullen with Dandy Dozen selection LeDarius Clark hitting in front of them.
“I felt like we geared up to make sure we didn’t let Clark hurt us and kind of forgot about the other guys a little,” Threadgill said.
Some coaches entered the 2012 MHSAA Baseball Championships worried about the defensive side of the game playing on a turf surface for the first time all season.
Threadgill had no need for such concern. Kossuth completed all three games of the 3A title series without committing an error in the field.
“We have a very solid defense,” Kossuth senior David Gibson said after Game 2. “It’s definitely a different playing field. We can always count on our defense.”