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Oxford overcomes slow start, sweeps Ridgeland to reach 3rd Round

RIDGELAND — The bear had to be poked, but once it was, the end was nigh for the Ridgeland Titans baseball team. Overcoming a slow start, Oxford defeated the Titans 9-4 in Game 2 to sweep their second round series, advancing to the third round of the 5A playoffs at Titan Park on Saturday night.

Oxford will play the winner of Monday’s Game 3 between Grenada and Lewisburg in the third round, starting Thursday at Edwin Moak Field.

After pummeling Ridgeland with four home runs in a 14-1 victory in Game 1 in Oxford on Friday night, the Chargers (26-4) had to work a little harder at the plate in the first half of Game 2. They scored the first two runs of the game in the top of the first inning, but then the bats went silent for the following frame. Meanwhile, Ridgeland scored three runs in the first two innings to take a quick 3-2 lead.

“Everybody in the playoffs is going to play better at home,” Oxford head coach Chris Baughman said. “(We’re) too young to know what (Friday night) meant. We scored a couple early, but we didn’t do a good job of matching their energy early until they kind of poked the bear. They said something to one of our kids and it’s tough when you poke the bear sometimes.”

The response to being poked came in the top of the third when Oxford score two runs off a double from right fielder Clark Stovall to score third baseman Carson Stinnett and shortstop Drew Bianco for a 4-3 lead. The Chargers never looked back from there, scoring two runs in the fifth and sixth innings and one run in the top of the seventh.

The punctuation came in the sixth with Stinett hit a two-run home run over the tall left field wall at Titans Park to make it 8-3.

“I think the energy picked up in the dugout,” Baughman. “I thought we were kind of slow in the beginning and slow trying to match the slow we weren’t accustomed to. (Ridgeland starting pitcher Kolby Smith) did a great job on the mound of getting out on the front foot.”

Stovall went 4-for-3 at the plate with three runs batted in while Stinnett went 1-for-3 with two RBIs. Designated hitter Duncan Graeber went 2-for-3 and had one RBI.

Markle battles

Stinnett was masterful in his 52-pitch gem on Friday night, but Saturday saw Reid Markle have to work through a little more adversity. Markle pitched into the seventh inning, but labored in the early innings with the Titans getting the leadoff runner on the first three innings.

Once Oxford gave him the lead back, Markle managed to work out of two jams. Ridgeland put three runners in scoring position in the third inning, but Markle kept them off the scoreboard. Markle was responsible for all four runs off 12 hits while striking out five and giving up one home run.

“(Markle) faced some big time adversity in the beginning,” Baughman said. “He was leaving the ball up, leaving the ball over the plate. He wasn’t locating well. I just wanted to stay with him. I knew we could score runs. Their three runs early I knew wouldn’t hold up with our offense. I just wanted to give him a chance because he deserves that chance. He and I talked for two or three minutes in the dugout and game planned. He gutted it out.”

Tyler Smith got the final three outs of the game after Markle gave up a leadoff single to start the seventh.