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Oxford on the brink after late rally by Pearl River in Game 1 of Class 5A title series

PEARL — Oxford finds themselves in uncharted waters. The Chargers have their backs against the wall, and if they want to capture that third straight state championship, they cannot lose again. Pearl River Central used a six-run seventh inning to defeat Oxford 8-4 in Game 1 of the MHSAA Class 5A championship series at Trustmark Park.

Game 2 is set for Friday at 1 p.m. in a do-or-die situation for the Chargers (31-6).

“It’s Game 1,” Oxford head coach Chris Baughman said. “(Pearl River) just acted like they won the whole state title. We reacted in that last inning as disappointed as I know kids should be when they give up a lead like that. But we’d just reacted like we’d given up the state title. That team over there, they’re not going to quit. They came back from giving up a seven-run lead in Game 1 against Hattiesburg to beat them and beat them soundly. So they’re hot right now, and we knew that coming in.”

The night started a lot better for Oxford than it ended, grabbing an early 1-0 lead in the second inning when right fielder Clark Stovall scored off a Pearl River Central error. The lead grew in the fourth inning when first baseman Ben Bianco scored off an RBI single by Preston Perkins to make it 2-0. Perkins finished the night 2-for-3 with three RBIs after hitting a two-RBI single in the sixth inning, breaking a 2-2 tie.

Oxford finished the night with only five hits off Pearl River Central starter Rigell Robinson, who pitched a complete game. Along with Perkins’ two hits, C.J. Terrell also went 2-for-3 while Ben Bianco was 1-for-2 at the plate. Robinson struck out eight and walked only one batter.

“I think (Robinson) didn’t make mistakes like we’re used to hitting, and we didn’t do a good job of hitting pitcher’s pitches,” Baughman said. “When you get a guy like that who’s on, you got to change your approach a little bit. Sometimes we get too stubborn and hard headed to change our approach and that’s what happens.”

In Oxford’s dugout, starter Carson Stinnett nearly worked a complete game himself but unraveled in the top of the seventh inning, giving up five of the six runs scored by the Blue Devils (27-11). Stinnett’s pitch count was high to begin the final inning, but Baughman kept his ace in there, hoping he could get out of the jam. Instead, he worked 6 2/3 innings, allowing 10 hits for six runs total, three earned, and striking out seven. He finished with a total of 117 pitches thrown, three away from the required limit by the MHSAA.

“I wasn’t going to pull him until he got to his pitch count,” Baughman said. “We made some mistakes defensively. Just little things, but when it comes down to it, they were better than us tonight.”

The game broke open for Pearl River Central when first baseman Eli Lee hit a one-out, two-RBI triple to tie the game up at 4-all. The Blue Devils then proceeded to score four more runs off Stinnett and Reed Markle, who worked the final out of the seventh. Ole Miss commit and sophomore catcher for Pearl River Hayden Dunhurst went 2-for-4 with a strikeout while Lee went 3-for-4 with the two RBIs as did second baseman Josh Kennedy. Seven Blue Devils recorded at least one RBI.

“Throughout the playoffs, if we are able to stay in the game, we have been fortunate to get a big inning,” Pearl River Central head coach Neil Walther said.