TUPELO – Conner Carothers might as well bring a cushion, make himself comfortable on the bench, and wait for his Tupelo Golden Wave to be trailing by one run in the later innings.
Then, heads up on the other side of the fence.
For the second playoff series in-a-row, Carothers delivered a late-inning home run, this time in the bottom of the sixth inning, to propel the Wave to a 3-2 victory over the Northwest Rankin Cougars in Game 1 of their Class 6A State Tournament quarterfinal series.
“I said the same prayer as the last time I was in this situation,” said the senior leftfielder, who hit a two-run home run in the top of the seventh in Game 2 last weekend against Grenada. “Last week it was a fastball outside, this week it was a fastball inside.
“This was a very nerve-wracking game.”
Pretty nervy for Tupelo (27-2), which trailed most of the way in this contest until powering ahead to take a 1-0 series lead. Game 2 is set for 3 p.m. today in Flowood.
The Wave and starting pitcher Ben Hudspeth (9-2) escaped Northwest Rankin’s first at bat as a hit, and error, and a walk loaded the bases. Then a force out at home and a Hudspeth strike out kept the Cougars (24-6) off the board.
In the second frame, Northwest broke through on a hit, an error, and an RBI single by Daniel Sweet. And in the third, an RBI single by Alex Shermer pushed the Cougars out to a 2-0 lead.
“Hudspeth got a big strike out with the bases loaded early,” said Tupelo coach Gary Enis, who also saw his senior pitcher end the second inning with a strike out with runners in scoring position. “He kept us in the game, and he got stronger as the game went on.”
After allowing that third-inning RBI hit, Hudspeth settled down and did not allow another hit until the seventh inning. And that gave the Tupelo offense time to figure out Northwest starter Cody Livingston (8-1).
In the bottom of the third inning, Tupelo strung together three straight hits by William Goss, Dylan Vuncannon, and Hudspeth, with Vuncannon getting the RBI and cutting the Cougars led to 2-1.
Moving to the sixth, Hudspeth led off the frame with a single. Then on a 1-1 count, Carothers ripped a Livingston offering to left-center that got out of the park quick.
“No doubt about it, that was just a good ball game with two good teams,” Enis said. “Carothers put the barrel of the bat on the ball and got a good clutch hit.
“We just chipped away tonight, and it was a big difference coming back from only one run down instead of two. Now, we’ve got to get more tomorrow.”
If needed, Game 3 of the series is scheduled back in Tupelo for Monday at 6 p.m.
David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal