By Blake Long/Special to the Journal
RIPLEY – It’s been 10 years, but the Ripley Tigers are two games away from making a trip to play for a state championship.
Ripley defeated Division 1-3A rival Alcorn Central 5-0 Saturday afternoon to sweep the best-of-three Class 3A quarterfinal series against the Golden Bears.
It will be the first appearance for Ripley in the North finals since 2001, when they fell to Independence.
“This is huge for the program and for the community,” Ripley coach Joel Gafford said. “We’ve got a ton of people here watching us today and the whole town is excited.”
Ripley (20-9) scored all the runs they would need in the first inning with two outs.
Ben Hellums singled to centerfield and, after courtesy runner John Austin Moore stole second, Zack Jones drove him in with a RBI double to right field. Jonathan Morrison then drove Jones’ courtesy runner, James Walter, in the next at bat with a double down the left field line to make it 2-0.
The Tigers added solo runs in each of the next two innings. A throwing error by Alcorn Central starter Jake Beck (5-3) allowed Ryan Moore to score in the second, while Morrison sent his fourth home run of the season over the left centerfield wall for a 4-0 lead after three.
The early runs would be more than enough for Ripley’s Hellums (5-3), who struck out five and walked only one in the complete game shutout victory.
Alcorn Central (24-7) had their chances to put runs in the board in both the first and fifth.
The Golden Bears loaded the bases in the first with one out, but a fielder’s choice that caught Phillip Quinn trying to score and a strikeout resulted in a scoreless first.
Hellums started the fifth inning by hitting the first two batters on two pitches, but a failed bunt attempt led to a double play and then a groundout back to Hellums ended the Alcorn Central threat.
“The first innings says a lot when we can’t get the runs in,” Alcorn Central coach Jeff Wood said. “We’ve played well all year long, but today wasn’t our day.”
Morrison capped a three-hit performance in the sixth with a RBI single for Ripley’s fifth run.