BRANDON — Northwest Rankin is one win away.
Behind the arm of Southern Miss signee Nick Monistere and a 14-hit explosion for the offense, the Cougars got past rival Brandon 12-7 in Game 1 of the MHSAA Baseball Class 6A South State Championship series in front of an estimated crowd of 2,500 at Mark Vinson Field Saturday night.
Game 2 of the series will be on Sunday afternoon at Northwest Rankin at 3 p.m.
“I thought we did a good job of battling early in the first inning and to scratch three runs was huge and after they hit the home run, we kept responding with runs inning after inning,” said Northwest Rankin coach K.K. Aldridge. “You pretty much know what you’re going to get out of Nick. He had command of all three pitches and really gave us six strong innings.”
The Cougars jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning on a bases-loaded walk by Brice Ainsworth and a two-run single by Chase Brown.
Brandon responded with a leadoff solo home run to left by leadoff man Mo Little to cut the Northwest Rankin lead to 3-1.
Northwest Rankin responded with a run in the second on a sacrifice fly by Dawson Muenzemay to extend the lead to 4-1.
The Cougars increased their lead to 6-1 in the third on a throwing error and RBI single to left by Evan Rogers.
The big inning for Northwest Rankin was the fifth. The Cougars scored four runs highlighted by a three-run home run by Monistere to take a 10-1 lead.
The Cougars added two more runs in the seventh on back to back doubles by Munzemay and Christian Cameron.
Brady Thomas had three hits to lead Northwest Rankin offensively. Monistere, Rogers, Cameron and Ryan Herbison had two hits each for the Cougars (31-2).
“That’s big for us to have guys throughout the order to have big nights like that at the plate,” Aldridge said. “All that we hit the ball better and hopefully tomorrow we can do the same. We want to make sure to close the door tomorrow and not come back here Monday.”
Monistere (10-1) got the win on the mound lasting six innings scattering five hits, one run, walked two and struck out seven.
“They started out hot, but after that I settled in and the whole game went our way,” Monistere said. “I’m satisfied with the way we played, and we had something to prove and ready to play tomorrow. Huge win for us especially in an environment like this.”
K.K. Clark (8-1) took the loss on the mound for Brandon. Mo Little had two hits to lead the Bulldogs (26-7). Brandon scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh highled by a two-run single by Nick Thornton to cut the lead to 12-7.
“Comes back to throwing strikes and getting timely hits and we didn’t do that," said Brandon coach Daniel Best. "We didn’t throw strikes and we gave them a lot of free base runners. I challenged them to respond tomorrow with the season on the line and try to find a way to win Game 2 and extend the series.”