MERIDIAN — Having watched a three-run lead turn into a three-run deficit, Mississippi Gulf Coast needed something big to happen Thursday against Meridian in the NJCAA Region 23 qualifying series.
The big thing was Darby Gilbert, and the freshman struck out 11 batters in 4.1 innings as the Bulldogs rallied for a 10-8 win to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
"I wasn't sure how long we could ride him, but in that situation, we needed somebody we felt could slam the door and get some strikeouts," Gulf Coast coach Rodney Batts said. "I didn't expect him to go that far, but it was really hard to take him out when we did."
The Bulldogs offense did its part, getting the leadoff hitter on in all nine innings. That runner scored in seven innings, and the team scored in all but one frame. Gulf Coast took advantage of five Meridian errors.
MGCCC (27-16) was the only road team to win in the four qualifying series. A win Thursday would move them into next week's regional at Itawamba. The teams will try to play starting at 10 a.m.
Gulf Coast scored single runs in the first three innings without getting a hit in the first two, but Meridian (29-14) score four times in the fourth to take the lead. After the Bulldogs tied it back up in the top of the fifth, the Eagles loaded the bases on a double and two walk.
Batts called on Gilbert, who entered with a one-track mind.
"Nobody can beat me," Gilbert said. "I'm the best out here on this field. Nobody's going to beat me."
Meridian got a 6-4 lead after a walk and a single, but then he started mowing them down. Gilbert struck out the last three batters, with another run scoring on a wild pitch.
Ike Williams (So., St. Martin/St. Martin) singled in a run in the sixth, and Alden Davis (So., Pascagoula/Pascagoula) followed with a two-run single to make it 7-7. Williams gave Gulf Coast the lead for good in the next inning when he lashed an RBI single into left field.
"I went up there and expected a curveball," he said. "I fought for it, and got the right pitch at the right time. That's what we play for."
Gulf Coast scored runs in the eighth and ninth, and Gilbert handed things off to Kole Kittrell (So., Greene County/State Line) with one out in the ninth for his fifth save.
"In the big picture, that's one game down," Batts said. "Anytime it's a tournament or a playoff situation, the first game is the biggest. To get that one under our belt. Tomorrow, we just have to win one. We know we can play with them now."
Meridian will be without head coach Dillon Sudduth, who was ejected in the ninth inning. He has a two-game suspension now for being ejected for the second time this year.
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