By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
PEARL – While he may not have been one of the fastest guys in little league, Connor Carothers certainly looked like one of the fastest playing at Trustmark Park on Thursday.
Carothers raced around the bases to score the winning run for the Tupelo High Golden Wave in Game 2 of its MHSAA Class 6A state championship series against Petal.
His inside-the-park homer with two outs in the top of the eighth ended up giving the Wave a 4-3 win and a new life in the best-of-three series. Game 3 is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at Trustmark Park.
“I was always a little chunky kid when I was younger, so that never happened,” Carothers who said it was his first inside-the-parker at any level.
Carothers, who also homered into the left-field bullpen in the fourth inning, hit a sinking line drive to center field that Jacoby Langley laid out for but couldn’t come up with. The ball then rolled deep into the outfield, allowing for Carothers to scamper around the bases.
“If he lays out for it, I was like, ‘I sure hope it goes past him. I’m at least going to get a triple,’” said the Wave’s Mr. Clutch. “By the time I was rounding second base, he (coach Gary Enis) was still waving me to come on.
“I got to third and he almost hesitated, and he then told me to go. I was about out of air, but I gave it all of the oxygen that was left in my body to get to home plate.”
The Tupelo senior left fielder is a major reason why the Wave is in the championship series to begin with. His homer in the top of the seventh in Game 2 of a second-round series against Grenada gave his team the go-ahead run it needed to stay alive in the postseason.
Then, in the opening game of his team’s quarterfinals series with Northwest Rankin, the senior belted a two-run shot to left center in the bottom of the sixth that rallied the Wave from a one-run deficit and lift it to an eventual 3-2 victory.
“You’re probably going to see me passed out on the bus in about five minutes,” Carothers told reporters less than 45 minutes after the inside-the-park homer.
Speaking of being worn out after Thursday’s game, you can probably count Tupelo starting pitcher Ben Hudspeth and the rest of his team’s pitching staff in that category.
Coming off two days rest after starting Monday’s Game 3 of a state semifinals series against Madison Central, Hudspeth threw 103 pitches in 41⁄3 innings on Thursday. He was charged with all three of Petal’s runs.
“I knew I was going to have to pitch with a lot of heart,” said the senior righty. “Coach Enis just kept telling me to be a bulldog out there, just to keep fighting, just to keep throwing strikes and let the defense work.
“That’s what I was trying to do.”
Cody Shrewsbury came on in relief of Hudspeth in the fifth and successfully got out of a bases-loaded jam with one out in the inning.
Shrewsbury was relieved by Ben Aldridge in the bottom of the sixth, and Aldridge once again bailed the Wave out of a bases-loaded jam without allowing a run.
Then, in the last half of the eighth, the Panthers again loaded the bases with no outs recorded in the inning. Hudspeth, who was moved behind the plate to catch, redeemed himself for a catcher’s interference call against him in the previous at-bat by scooping J.D. Roberts’ low throw home, on a ground ball hit to the Tupelo first baseman, for the first out.
Aldridge (5-1) then struck out Jacob Hiatt for out No. 2 and retired Larson Barkurn on a 4-3 groundout to end it.
“I don’t have any idea,” Enis said about who will pitch Game 3 for his team. “No idea. … It may be a game-time decision on Saturday.”
While Wave hitters – led by Carothers (3 for 4, two RBIs, two runs scored), Luke Davis (3 for 3, two doubles, run scored) and William Goss (2 for 3, RBI) – had a good day at the plate versus Brandon Smith (8-4), they will once again have to contend with big boy Cody Conkle in Game 3 Saturday afternoon.
Conkle held the Wave to four hits in a 10-2 Game 1 win on Wednesday night.