Panola tries to complete three-game sweep in Rush Invitational
Feb. 18, 2001
By Austin Bishop
Special To The Star
The Ponies of Panola (Texas) College made themselves right at home at Scaggs Field on Saturday, as they rolled to a pair of wins in the 2001 Rush Invitational Baseball Tournament.
Panola opened the first of three games on the day with a 4-3 win over Faulkner (Ala.) State, then scored four runs in the eighth inning of the nightcap to take a 6-2 win over host Meridian Community College.
The middle game of the day saw MCC nip Columbia (Tenn.) State 4-3 behind the strong right arm of starting pitcher Martin LaRocca.
Today's final day of action in the Rush Invitational has Panola going for a three-game sweep of the tournament when the 3-5 Ponies take on 0-2 Columbia at noon. MCC, 4-2, faces Faulkner, 2-4, in the tourney ender at 3 p.m.
The tournament was forced into a three-game format on Saturday, due to bad weather on Friday. But before the day could be rained out on Friday, Faulkner got the annual event started with a 23-0 thumping of Columbia.
LaRocca, a sophomore from Metarie, La., was in total control of his pitches in MCC's win over Columbia.
MCC used a two-run sixth and a single run in the seventh to turn a 1-1 dog fight into a 4-1 lead.
But then the Chargers rallied to score runs in the top of the ninth, before freshman Michael Goodson came in for MCC to record the last out and pick up his second save on the season.
The Eagles took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first thanks to an RBI double by Antion Gray. Columbia tied it with a single run in the second.
MCC then used RBI doubles by Gray and McMullen in the sixth to score two more runs. It was a double kind of day for MCC at the plate, as Dustin Cliburn, Rory Thornton and Chris Knight also had doubles.
LaRocca finished the day with eight strikeouts and allowed just seven hits.
It looked like MCC's pitching magic was going to get the job done in the last game of the day as well.
Sophomore Brian Reed, who along with LaRocca has already signed to play for the University of Alabama next season, was dominating in the early stages against Panola.
He struck out seven hitters over the first four innings and recorded 10 strike outs before being relieved in the sixth.
MCC held a 2-1 lead when Reed left the game. Reliever Curt McLellan came in with runners on first and third with one out and coaxed the first hitter he faced to hit a comebacker to the mound. McLellan threw the runner on first out at second, but the relay throw back to first was wide, allowing the batter to reach and the runner from third to score with the tying run.
While the Eagles let a couple scoring opportunities get away, and made the error to let Panola tie the game, McNickle said the key to the game was the effort put forth by Ponies' pitcher Dan Reed.
The big left-hander struck out 10 and allowed just one hit on the game, that being a single by Gray with one out in the sixth.
MCC took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Travis Garner walked and moved all the way to third on a sacrifice bunt by Thornton. Gray then delivered a run-scoring ground out to second base.
Reed no-hit Panola until the fifth inning, when Sammy Bevilacqua led off the inning with a single. He later scored on a single by Jason Holder after a ground out and a passed ball had moved him to third.
MCC regained the lead at 2-1 in the bottom of the inning thanks to a pair of errors by the Panola left fielder and an RBI fielder's choice by Matt McCleskey.
The wheels came off for Meridian in the eighth, when Panola used three singles to go up 4-2 and then made it 6-2 on a two-run homer over the netting in right field by Luke Alexander.
McLellan, 0-2, took the loss on the mound for MCC.