FLOWOOD — Northwest Rankin has dubbed Flowood “Electric City” for the 2021 season, but they went into the bottom of the seventh needing a spark of their own in the winner-take-all Game Three of the 6A South State Championship series Thursday night.
And they got it.
Senior Luke Lycette laced an RBI double off the wall in left-center to drive in the winning run in a dramatic, 13-12 win over Oak Grove to clinch a berth in the state championship against Madison Central next week.
“I got ahead in the count 2-0 before they changed pitchers,” Lycette said, still sweaty from the post-game celebration. “But I just tried to be patient and make him put it on a tee for me. I got the fastball I was looking for and just tried to put the bat on it. It’s just an amazing feeling — there’s so many emotions I can’t even describe it.”
The walk-off was a fitting end to a wild South State Finals series. The Cougars won Game One 4-0 Tuesday night behind a three-hit, complete-game shutout from Southern Miss commit Nick Monistere. The Warriors evened it up Wednesday in Hattiesburg with a 5-3 win with ace J.P. Lyon on the bump.
Thursday night, it didn’t matter who was pitching, because both lineups came loaded for bear.
The Cougars scored three runs in the second on Christian Cameron’s three-run homer, then gave the lead right back when Oak Grove plated four runs in the top of the third.
Northwest came back with four runs of their own in the bottom of the inning — highlighted by catcher Brady Thomas’ two-run homer to center — to regain the lead at 7-4.
The Cougars (27-7) got two more runs on wild pitches and Blake Summerlin and Brice Ainsworth both drove in runs in the fourth to stretch the lead to 11-4.
But Oak Grove wasn’t done yet. The Warriors batted around in the top of the sixth and put eight runs on the board, including six with two outs. Zach Little cleared the bases with a three-RBI double in the inning, and GW Pigott got the big two-RBI single to center to drive in the tying and go-ahead run that put Oak Grove ahead 12-11.
Cameron got the Cougars’ seventh-inning rally going with a leadoff single, and Sam Whatley followed with another single to put runners at the corners with nobody out. Pinch runner Chris Tillman scored on a controversial balk call, and Ryan Herbison walked to set up Lycette’s fateful at-bat.
“Our guys just never quit fighting,” first-year Northwest Rankin coach K.K. Aldridge said. “I’ve always told them that if they get hit with a big inning, you just have to come right back with a big inning of your own. I was so proud of the way they responded and never quit. We knew we were going to get a fight out of Oak Grove — they are a great hitting team.”
There were so many heroes for Northwest Rankin. Cameron went 2-for-3 with a walk and three RBIs, and Thomas — the Game One hero — drove in two runs on two hits. Eight of the nine Cougars in the lineup recorded hits.
Sophomore starter Powell Ingram gave up 10 runs on 12 hits with three walks and three strikeouts.
Lycette got the win in relief, despite giving up two runs in 1.1 innings of work on three hits.
The Warriors (24-8) out-hit the Cougars 15-11, but made one critical error in the fourth inning that extended the Northwest Rankin’s at-bat and led to two unearned runs.
Little and Jack Sikes each drove in three runs to lead the Warriors offensively.
“The last inning isn’t the one that killed us,” Oak Grove coach Chris McCardle said. “It was the error in the fourth that extended that inning and let it get away from us. But we didn’t pitch well. It was probably our poorest pitching performance of the season, and in a Game Three like this in South State, home field advantage is so, so huge. But hats off to (Northwest Rankin). They never quit, even after we hit them in the mouth.”
The Cougars will play for the state title for the first time since winning it all in 2005. They’ll face Madison Central in the opening game of the 6A Finals at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Trustmark Park.