49ers get focused, then explode

TUPELO – Coming from behind is nothing new to the Tupelo 49ers American Legion baseball team.
So when they fell behind 5-0 halfway through Saturday afternoon’s elimination game against Booneville, they didn’t panic. Instead, they got more focused at the plate and outscored the Braves 16-1 the rest of the way to win 16-6 in a game shortened to seven innings by the 10-run mercy rule.
“We’re a hard-nosed team,” said 49ers center fielder Channing Walker, who led the Tupelo offense on Saturday with three hits. “We never really give up. Today, we really saw that.
“We’ve done it all summer: We’ve come back from some games and won.”
Booneville, which finished second to Tupelo in last year’s state tourney, was eliminated after committing six errors against a Tupelo team it beat three times in five games during the regular season.
Pontotoc’s Dylan Earnest pitched a perfect game against the Braves in Friday’s Game 1.
“It’s just real frustrating,” said Booneville coach Shane Sanderson, whose team ended its season at 17-13. “We’re a lot better team than this.
“Take nothing away from Tupelo, but we definitely didn’t play well. It’s tough to swallow right now.”
Chris Gullick had a great game at the plate for the Braves, finishing a triple short of hitting for the cycle. His solo shot to right gave the Braves a 1-0 advantage in the top of the fourth.
Lee Wilson added a two-RBI double and Drew Dodds singled home a run in the five-run fourth inning for the Braves.
However, that lead for Booneville was short-lived when the 49ers put up seven runs, highlighted by Lex Rutledge’s two-RBI single, in the bottom half of the inning.
During an inning in which 12 Tupelo hitters batted, Booneville starter Tyler Beaty (3-2) was pulled from the game after walking two batters and hitting two batters.
“He just couldn’t find the strike zone,” Sanderson said. “With five-run leads, you just gotta throw strikes and let your defense work. We didn’t do that.”
Sam Cruse, who relieved Beaty in the fourth, didn’t fare much better; Tupelo struck him for 10 runs by taking advantage of the six errors behind him.
Austin Burns, on the other hand, survived an early deficit and pitched all seven innings to improve to 3-2 on the season.
“Burns pitched his tail off,” said 49ers coach Kirk Presley, whose team improved to 20-13. “He really buckled down and battled.”

John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal