By BOB FORREST
TUPELO — Battiest and Buffalo Valley saw first-hand in Thursday’s first round of the Class B regional tournament why Tupelo sophomore Randy McCurry is one of the state’s most dangerous weapons.
McCurry, the Tigers’ clean-up hitter and one of Oklahoma’s top small-school pitchers, cracked two home runs — including a grand slam — in Tupelo’s 16-0 opening-round demolition of Battiest, then he tossed a three-hitter and outdueled Buffalo Valley ace Richard Smith in a 3-1 victory that pushed the defending Class B state champions to within one win of another state tournament appearance.
Tupelo (26-4 and ranked No. 2 in Class B) now needs only one victory today to move on to Oklahoma City. The Tigers will send another sophomore, Cameron Mann, to the mound against the winner of a 1:30 p.m. loser-out contest between Buffalo Valley and Kiowa ( Kiowa eliminated Battiest in Thursday’s final game) and, with a victory, will earn their school’s seventh straight state tournament trip (spring and fall) under coach Clay Weller. A loss in the 3:30 contest will force a deciding game later in the day.
Tupelo 3, Buffalo Valley 1
After stroking three homers and two doubles in the rout of Battiest in the day’s first game, Tupelo used good situational hitting and the pitching of McCurry to beat a Buffalo Valley squad that looked like a different team with Smith on the mound than it had in an error-strewn 8-5 victory over Kiowa in the day’s second game.
McCurry and Smith combined to allow just four hits (three by Tupelo) through three innings, then, after doubles by Mann helped the Tigers score once in the fourth and twice in the fifth, the Buffs mounted their only serious threat in the seventh.
Held to just one hit and five baserunners (on a hit, a walk, a hit batter and two Tupelo errors) by McCurry through six innings, Buffalo Valley got a leadoff single from Travis Petty to start the seventh, then, after McCurry struck out Bud Smith on a nasty curve for the first out of the inning, Kenny Vanderslice lined a soft single to center.
McCurry struck out Ben Poe (for the third time in the game) on a fastball for the second out but walked nine-hole hitter Jeadon Chancellor to load the bases and leadoff hitter Kalen Palmer to force in the Buffs' only run of the game. After a visit to the mound by Weller, McCurry — who struck out every batter in the Buffalo Valley line-up at least once — ran the count full on Jake Chancellor but got his 16th strikeout on a fastball at the knees to end the game.
“I just told him he was pressing and trying to force the issue,” Weller said of his conversation with McCurry before the game-ending strikeout.
Smith, who scattered seven hits, took the tough-luck loss, and Weller said it probably helped his young club to see a quality pitcher and survive a tough game at this point in the playoffs.
“With (Smith) on the mound, they’re a tough ballclub,” Weller said of the 15-8 Buffs. We had some good at-bats and hit some balls hard but right at people. Games like this where we’re put in pressure situations give us someting to build on.”
Tupelo broke a scoreless tie in the fourth, when Mann led off with an opposite-field double to the wall in right field and later scored on Paul Sweeney’s one-out ground ball to shortstop, and the Tigers got a couple of key insurance runs in the fifth.
Eight-hole hitter Jerad Romines coaxed the Tigers’ only walk of Smith in the game to start the inning, then freshman second baseman Jeremy Stein (who had two of Tupelo’s seven hits), laid down a perfect bunt past the mound and beat it out for an infield single.
Smith then hit William Boaz to load the bases, Casey McCollum grounded into a 6-3 double play to plate Romines with the first run of the game, and Mann followed with a bloop double into shallow right field to score Stein.
“I liked our approach at the plate late in the game,” Weller said. “Paul hit the ground ball to short to score the run after Cameron got the leadoff double in the fourth, then Jared battled to get on base and Jeremy laid down a perfect bunt in the fifth. Casey hit into a double play, but he hit the ball hard.”
Tupelo 16, Battiest 0
Eight straight Tupelo batters scored after two men were out in the first, with McCurry’s two-run homer — after Mann lined a single to left — giving the Tigers the lead for good at 2-0. Jared Griffin had an RBI single later in the inning, and McCollum capped the outburst with a three-run double to left to give starter Chad Woods an 8-0 lead heading to the second.
Tupelo scored eight more times in the second, with Sweeney’s line-drive two-run homer to right (to score McCurry, who had walked), McCollum’s two-run single to left and McCurry’s towering grand slam to right-center accounting for all the runs.
Woods didn’t allow a runner past second base in his three innings of work and teamed with Jerry Hines on a two-hitter to improve to 8-1 this spring.
By BOB FORREST