CORINTH - The Pine Grove Panthers picked up a quality 7-5 win over Class 4A member Corinth on Monday night that head coach Matt King hopes will build momentum heading into the Class 1A Playoffs this week.
"This was a game I wanted to play," King said. "This is a playoff atmosphere. You play a team that you don't play very often. You play at a place your not familiar with. It's very similar to what you're going to face if you run deep into the playoffs.
"That Corinth team is a good baseball team. That are No. 3 in their division in 4A so they are a good baseball team. They are very playoff-like here and that's why I wanted to play this game and I'm really glad our kids showed up."
One kid who showed up was sophomore Cason Jones. Jones drew the start on the mound and coming into the game had only given up three earned runs all season long. Against a good Warriors squad, Jones gave up four earned runs but found his stride as the game went along, striking out the side in the bottom of the sixth for eight strikeouts on the night. In the third, Jones connected on a two-run inside-the-park home run to give Pine Grove the 4-3 lead that they would hold on to for good.
"He really didn't have his best stuff tonight," King said of Jones. "He was all over the place, couldn't locate early and threw a lot of breaking balls in there in the first three innings and that's not like Cason. He pitches off that breaking ball. And he didn't have that stuff for about four innings there but in the fifth and sixth he started to find it. You have to applaud his grit. He stood in there and made big pitch after big pitch."
Pine Grove took a 2-0 lead on two RBI singles from D.J. Smith and Jacob Hopkins in the second inning. IN the bottom half of the second, Corinth stormed back to plate three and take their first and only lead of the game.
Jones' two-run homer in the third lifted Pine Grove to a 4-3 lead where they added to it in the fourth on a bases-clearing double from Carson Rowland for the 7-3 lead.
Corinth plated two runs in the bottom of the fourth to get within two runs but that is where Jones and Cooper Rinehart locked in, allowing just one hit and one walk in the final three innings, all while striking out four Warriors in their last six at-bats.
Pine Grove will enter this weekend's Class 1A Playoffs as the No. 1 seed from Div. 1-1A after a perfect 10-0 record. The Panthers draw a familiar foe in Tippah County's very own Blue Mountain Cougars, who are the No. 4 seed out of Div. 2-1A. Beginning with the Cougars and beyond, King knows that the playoffs are a long, tough road but he believes in his group in every game.
"I tell you, it's a tough,tough road," King stated. "If you look at the bracket, it's a tough road. It's a grind. I'm not going to say that we are going to go out there and beat all those teams because it's going to be tough. But that's baseball, cards fall different every night. But I'll say this, I wouldn't want to go on that road with anybody else than this group. This group, when they are locked in and they face a challenge, this group 10 times out of 10 since I've been here has risen to it."
Pine Grove and Blue Mountain begin their first round best-of-three series this Friday at Pine Grove, weather permitting.