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 March 19, 2014

Booneville, Miss. – Evan Hickman and the Northeast Mississippi Community College bullpen put in a full day’s work on Saturday afternoon.

Ten different Tiger hurlers saw action and kept visiting Itawamba Community College off balance in a sweep of the Indians, 6-4 and 6-5, in Northeast’s first Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division home doubleheader of the 2014 season.

“Coach (Kent Farris) told us we were going to piece together a good pitching staff today and that’s exactly what happened,” Hickman said. “I’m so proud of every one of them. We threw strikes and got two team wins.”

Hickman accomplished a rare feat by appearing in the pair of games and factoring into both decisions.

The 6-1, 194 pounder entered the opener with the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the seventh inning. Even with Itawamba threatening to erase a 6-2 Tiger lead, Hickman closed the contest with minimum damage allowed.

Thanks in part to a beautiful diving play by Trent Turner on a ground ball up the middle, Hickman induced three straight fielder’s choices to wrap up the first victory of the day and earn his third save of the season.

The right-hander from Holly Springs faced a similar situation in the nightcap when he took the mound with the score knotted at 5-5 and a runner on base.

Hickman once again worked around the trouble and got Tanner Poole to strike out looking to end the frame and get Northeast, which is ranked No. 19 by the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), back into the dugout.

“My mind set since I was born has been to go out and get it,” said Hickman (3-0), who claimed the win in game two. “When stuff comes to push and shove, I’m ready to go.”

Three straight Tigers reached to start the bottom half, two on Heath Wood and Riley Alef singles and the other by a throwing error on Turner’s bunt attempt.

Easton Hall then worked a full count off Indian reliever Brady Chambley (2-2) before taking ball four to force Wood home and provide the fourth walkoff triumph for Northeast this year.

Turner’s nice snag in the lid lifter was not the only amazing defensive effort by the Tigers against their archrival. Wood set the tone by sending the large crowd at Harold T. White Field into a frenzy with a rare feat.

With Itawamba ahead 1-0 in the second, the Kossuth High School product climbed the left field wall, stuck his glove over the fence and robbed what would have been a two-run home run by Drew Wheeler. The unbelievable grab kept the Indians off the scoreboard in that inning and shifted the momentum over to Northeast.

“I thought I was going to catch it at the wall, so at the last second I just jumped and threw my glove up,” said Wood. “It was just fun doing it. I was excited for the team in a big situation.”

Jordan Mongtomery stretched out to catch what would have been a Gable Butler hit in centerfield while Drew Wray stabbed a sharply hit line drive by Luke Gibbs at third base to save runs from scoring in the second contest.

“We just made some key plays in key situations and that’s what it’s all about,” said Farris. “Pitching, defense, and timely hitting gets you wins and we had all those things today.”

The Tigers (10-8, 3-1) tied things up in the bottom of the second after Wood’s catch on Montgomery’s opposite field single that plated Ben Foster.

Austin Welch put Itawamba up 2-1 one frame later on a RBI double, but Northeast took the lead for good in the fifth.

Wood knotted the contest on a fielder’s choice before Turner delivered the big hit. The freshman from Brandon knocked a triple into the left-centerfield gap that scored Luke Stanley and Wood.

Turner then came home when the cutoff throw from the outfield sailed into the Indians’ dugout to put the Tigers up 5-2.

Stanley then added an insurance run in the sixth with a RBI double to make it 6-2 in favor of Northeast.

Itawamba leaped out to an early advantage in the second matchup with an Ethan Gill double before a balk on Indians starter Tucker Akin scored Montgomery to tie the game at 1-1 after an inning.

The fifth was once again a big frame for the Tigers. Stanley had another run scoring hit and Turner added a sacrifice fly as Northeast took a 4-2 advantage.

But Itawamba (10-8, 0-2) plated three runs in the sixth thanks to two Tiger miscues and a Butler double to go up 5-4.

The lead would be short lived after Jack Hurdle touched the plate in the bottom half on a passed ball to set up Hall’s game-winner in the seventh.

The bottom of the batting order was huge for Northeast. The seven, eight and nine holes were a combined 11 for 15 with 3 RBIs.

Stanley led the charge from the last spot in the order. The Lafayette County High School alumnus and team captain was 3 for 4 with a pair of walks and RBIs.

Five of the Tigers’ eight relievers, including Tyler Nelms, Blake Drabik, Hunt Halford, Mason Maxey and Hickman, did not allow a run. Sophomore Ben Hellums (1-0) earned the decision in game one after throwing 2.1 innings of one-hit ball.

Itawamba batters struck out nine times against Northeast. Tyler Cox and Hellums led the way with three strikeouts apiece.

“I can’t say enough about the job our pitchers did,” Farris said. “Every guy we pulled in there did his job. We got what we needed out of them.”

The nationally ranked Tigers step out of MACJC North Division play on Tuesday (March 18) when they travel to Arkansas Baptist College. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Gary Hogan Field.

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