By David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal
FULTON – The MACJC State Baseball Tournament will certainly have a Southern flavor with three schools from the South Division in the four-team field.
When the tournament begins today, Gulf Coast, Jones, and Hinds will be in the Itawamba Community College kitchen, where the host Indians hope to cook up a state title.
Play begins at 2 p.m. with Hinds (33-16) vs. Jones (31-17). The host Indians (37-9) will throw their first pitch at 6 p.m. against Gulf Coast (27-17).
In his 10th season as head coach at Itawamba, Rick Collier will be looking for his third state championship, having guided the Indians to titles in ’03 and ’09. The Indians have played in the title game three other times under Collier.
“This is a tough league,” Collier said. “Our school has been around 62 years, and we’ve only won four times.”
Itawamba played its way this far into the post-season by sweeping East Central in the first round of the playoffs with an 8-7 win Friday, and a 12-6 win Saturday.
“It was a hard-fought weekend, but it was good for our guys to be tested,” Collier said. “We had some arms left if we did go to a third game that we didn’t use.
“I might think about using them differently this weekend.”
Like the first round against East Central, Collier feels he will again start Tupelo freshman Ben Hudspeth today in Game 1 and Hamilton sophomore Dylan Earnest in Game 2 Friday. Collier thinks North Pontotoc’s Myles Snyder moved up a notch with his relief work Saturday, and will be looking for potential innings for Landon Brister of Houston and Collin Minga of Mantachie with the post-season format of nine innings.
Gulf Coast could start left-hander Matt Lee (7-3, 2.30 ERA) against the Indians, and Collier feels the visitors offense is anchored by No. 3 hitter Dan Slatton, who is batting at a .400 clip with 12 home runs.
In the double-elimination format, Thursday’s losers play at noon Friday, followed by Thursday’s winners at 3 p.m. There will also be a losers bracket game at 6 p.m. Friday, with championship games Saturday.
Itawamba has not played Gulf Coast this season, but has a 3-1 record against Hinds, and 2-0 mark against Jones, the defending champion.