CENTRAL — An early deficit did not faze Central Private, and now the Rebels are just one win away from capturing their 12th Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class 2A championship after a 6-1 victory over Marshall Academy on Tuesday night.
“Anytime you can win the first game of a three-game series, it is a good thing,” CPS coach Jason Kinchen said. “Their hitters are very good and got to us early, but our guys settled down and played really well to take care of business at home.”
Game 2 of the best-of-three series is set for Friday in Holly Springs, Miss. Should Marshall (21-12) even the series, the teams would play a second game that night.
“You are going to get the best competition out of everybody in a state championship game,” Marshall coach Bart Jenkins said. “We got off to a slow start here on the road. Hopefully they will do the same at our place.”
Pitching on the biggest stage of his career, Central Private (28-4) pitcher Brennan Fucich turned in one of his better games to earn the win. In seven innings, Fucich (8-1) did not allow a walk or a run, struck out eight and scattered three hits.
“He’s a bulldog on the mound,” Kinchen said of Fucich. “He always comes back with something different and keeps guys off balance. He’s not afraid to challenge any hitters.”
CPS senior left fielder Blake Chelette recorded two of the Rebels’ five hits and drove in four runs off of Marshall starting pitcher Aaron McAlexander.
It was a tough night for Marshall’s senior left-hander as he was pulled with two outs in the second inning. He walked six and gave up all of CPS’ runs.
“He’s been my No. 1 pitcher for three years,” Jenkins said of McAlexander (10-2). “He has started out slow in the past, and I usually let him work out of it, but we were in a position to where we couldn’t wait that long.”
While it was a tough night on the mound for McAlexander, he accounted for the Patriots’ lone run with a solo home run off of Fucich in the first inning to give Marshall a 1-0 lead.
That lead was quickly erased in Central Private’s first at-bat when Chelette drove in two runs with a single to center after McAlexander loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batsman.
With the bases loaded again in the second, CPS added to its lead after McAlexander walked Layton Laird to force in a run, followed by a sacrifice fly by Blake Benoit to make it 4-1.
After allowing a walk to Fucich, McAlexander was foiled again by Chelette with the bases loaded; this time on a two-run single to left field.
“Chelette had a heck of a game,” Kinchen said. “He came up big twice at the plate for us.”
With the comfortable lead, Fucich pitched with confidence and command. He retired eight straight batters after giving up the first-inning home run.
The streak ended when Benoit let a McAlexander ground ball go between his legs at second base. Vince Hoyt followed with a sharp single to center field, putting two runners on with nobody out.
Marshall senior Von Watson turned on the first pitch he saw from Fucich and lined a single to left field. With McAlexander rounding third, Chelette fielded the ball and quickly fired a throw to home plate. The ball reached CPS catcher Easton Holmes on one bounce, and he applied the tag for the out. Fucich retired the next two batters to keep the five-run lead.
“Marshall had some momentum going, and he missed his cut-off man but he threw the ball on a line, ” Kinchen said. “He put the nail in the coffin on that play at the plate.”