In April, senior infielder Chase Cernigliaro thought his baseball season might be over because of a broken finger. Now, the Tupelo Golden Wave are certainly happy that Cernigliaro had a few more games left in his high school career.
Cernigliaro delivered the game-winning hit Friday with two out in the bottom of the seventh inning, capping an emotional game and a 7-6 victory by the Wave over the Columbus Falcons in the Class 6A playoffs. Tupelo takes a 1-0 lead in the second round series, with Game 2 scheduled for today at 6 p.m. at Columbus, weather permitting.
“I actually thought my season was over at one point,” said Cernigliaro in his third game back from the injury. “Now hopefully, I can stay hot. In the at bat, I just said to myself you’ve got to step up big.”
Tupelo (23-8) needed big as Columbus stormed back in the sixth inning in a contest the Wave were already beginning to chalk up in the win column. With Tupelo up 5-1, the Falcons scored four in the top of the sixth on two walks, a hit batter, and three hits. Columbus (23-7) then took the lead in the top of the seventh, with two Tupelo errors helping to set up a sacrifice fly with which the Falcons took the lead.
Now Columbus was beginning to write this one down in the books, with Carter Clayton reaching base on an error to lead off the bottom of the seventh, but followed by two Tupelo outs. William Ikerd then reached base on an infield error, scoring Clayton.
Luke Weeden drew a walk for the Wave, but there were still two out in the inning, with Columbus ace Trace Lee still on the mound. Cernigliaro then stroked a solid single to center, scoring pinch runner Mickey Sesin to cap the Wave rally.
“They just kept fighting,” Tupelo head coach Gary Enis said. “Somehow tonight, we found a way to get it done.”
Excellent defense and timely offense the early innings of the contest aided Tupelo in grabbing a lead. Hudson Roy drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the first, advanced to third on a Michael Ray single, then scored on a sac fly by Ty Wheeler.
Columbus knotted the contest at 1-1 in the third on two walks, a bunt, and a slow, bouncing infield grounder. Meanwhile the Tupelo defense saw stellar plays by Matthew Miley with a diving effort in right field in the first, and diving stab by Clayton at third base in the fourth to keep Columbus at bay.
The Tupelo offense moved into gear in the middle innings, beginning in the bottom of the fourth as Cernigliaro had an RBI single, a Woody Goss bunt scored a run, and a Miley grounder scored another. Then in the fifth, Wheeler just missed a home run with a shot off the left-center wall that was good for a triple, and pinch runner Tucker Whitenton scored on a wild pitch.
“These were closely matched teams,” Columbus head coach Jeffrey Cook said. “We just didn’t make the plays the last inning. I told the team this was baseball, and you get another chance tomorrow.”
Roy had the start on the mound for the Wave in Game 1, pitching into the sixth inning. Jason Garrett relieved in the sixth inning, and Drew Hurst threw to the final two batters in the seventh.