April 27, 2013 10:59:14 PM
By David Miller
Special to The Dispatch
After 13 unanswered runs, West Lowndes High School baseball coach Todd Stanley couldn't blame his players.
Armed mostly with players who weren't around for the last playoff appearance three years ago, the Panthers faltered in their first test to keep a lead in a high-stakes series.
The Panthers committed four errors, issued seven walks and gave up three runs off wild pitches or passed balls in a 16-5 loss to Pelahatchie in the first game of a best-of-three series in the play-in round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 1A playoffs.
Saturday in Pelahatchie, West Lowndes saw its season end as the Chiefs completed a series sweep with a another victory.
"We're trying to get back to where being in playoff situations is the norm around here," Stanley said. "This is valuable experience for a lot of our you g guys. A tough loss at the same time."
The Chiefs settled in behind relief pitcher Mitchell Tagert, who calmly got out of a slow debut inning in the fourth to finish with three scoreless innings and the win. Tagert surrendered two hits and walked two batters.
"That's what Mitchell has done all year (in that reliever role)," Pelahatchie coach Brian Edwards said. "He's a leader, a guy who always seems to pull us together. He's a cool-headed kid."
The Chiefs' defense struggled behind starter Zac Varner, who had a wild pitch and passed ball directly lead to West Lowndes runs. Varner walked in two more in the third.
The Panthers jumped on the erratic Varner, too, through an RBI double from Levonte Campbell and three other hits in the lineup.
The Panthers led 5-3 heading into the top of the fourth; then, their inexperience caught up to them.
West Lowndes committed three of their four errors in the last three innings and went dead cold at the plate.
"I did think the moment got to them once we got the lead ," Panthers coach Todd Stanley said. "We knew Pelahatchie was a good-hitting team and they made us pay tonite."
Stanley was forced into a tough decision when starting pitcher Wendell Rieves started to tire and miss spots. Instead of stopping the bleeding when Pelahatchie loaded the bases and pegged two runs in the fourth, Stanley let him finish the frame. The Chiefs exited with a 7-5 and never looked back.
"If this were a one-game series, we would have handled it differently," Stanley said. "We tried to save some guys for Saturday and had to have some guys eat some innings today. [Rieves] started to get tired and left some balls up ... Pelahatchie took advantage of it."
Said Edwards, "We've been a momentum team all year. We finally got our bats going and never slowed down."
Rieves helped his cause at the plate, where he went 2 of 3.
Jason King paced the Chiefs three RBIs and four hits. Antonio Beeman had two hits and three RBI.