GULFPORT — With Georgia defeating West Virginia early Tuesday afternoon, Citrus Park knew it would need a victory over Tullahoma (Tennessee) to clinch a spot in the semifinals of the Southeast Regional tournament and avoid a potential three-way tie atop the Pool A standings.
Tennessee, facing a must-win situation against Citrus Park, also held slim hopes of advancing to the semifinals.
With its destiny in its hands, Citrus Park quickly assembled a 5-0 first-inning lead to take control against Tennessee and cruised in a 10-2 victory.
The win gives Citrus Park a perfect 3-0 record at the conclusion of pool play and a place in today's second semifinal against South Carolina at 7:30 p.m.
"Score five runs in the first inning. That's the keys to our success," Citrus Park manager Joe McGuire said.
A combination of timely Citrus Park hits coupled with the inconsistent pitching of Tennessee (1-2) starter Jordan Sheffield helped Citrus Park build its early lead. Sheffield walked three batters and threw six wild pitches in a first inning that was delayed for nearly an hour by lightning. Mike McGuire doubled to score Citrus Park's first run, Wyatt Reid followed with an RBI double and three other runs were scored directly off wild pitches.
"We were taking a pitch," McGuire, the coach, said. "Everybody was taking a pitch."
Sheffield, although throwing hard, continued to struggle finding the strike zone. He plunked Citrus Park's Brett Wilkosz in the batting helmet at the start of the second inning. Wilkosz, who walked off the field under his own power, was taken to a local hospital as a precautionary measure according to McGuire.
In the third, Citrus Park added two more runs when Danny Lastra singled home Reid and later scored on Sheffield's ninth and final wild pitch.
McGuire led off the fifth inning with a home run to leftfield to make the score 8-2. In the sixth, he unloaded again, sending a two-run shot well beyond the outfield wall and high into the trees surrounding the stadium.
"I didn't even think I hit it," he said. "I didn't even feel the ball hit the bat at all. I just saw it go."
Kevin Merrell started on the mound for Citrus Park and struck out two in an inning of work. Danny Miller came on in relief and pitched the final five innings to get the victory. He struck out eight and surrendered just four hits.
Georgia 14, W.Va. 3
Payton Purvis' third inning grand slam broke a 3-all tie and propelled Georgia to a runaway victory over West Virginia and a semifinal berth. Purvis hit a second home run in a six-run sixth for Georgia (2-1). Justin Jones (solo shot) and A. J. Priaulx (three-run homer) also homered for Georgia in the sixth. West Virginia (0-3) took an early 2-0 lead on Ace Estep's two-run home run. Georgia answered with three runs in the second before Max Maxson tied the game at 3 with a solo blast.
Alabama 4, S.C. 3
Alabama finished as the Pool B champion after a come-from-behind victory over South Carolina. Trailing 2-1 entering the fifth inning, Alabama's Jesse Brittain smashed a three-run home run with one out to give Alabama (3-0) the lead for good. South Carolina (2-1) got a run back in the sixth with two outs, but Alabama's Dominic Martin struck out the final South Carolina batter to close out the victory. Both teams advance to today's semifinal round.
N.C. 11, Virginia 4
North Carolina avoided going winless in the tournament after scoring seven runs in the sixth against Virginia (0-3). Dakota Perryman's three-run home run was the inning's big hit and sealed the victory for North Carolina (1-2).