Aaron McDonald had to work hard for it, but he finally got the birthday present he had been looking forward to all day.
The newly 19-year-old McDonald, who shares his birthday with a twin sister, pitched a complete game to lead the Pine Bluff Tigers to a 10-5 win over the Bryant Black Sox in the PRO-DAY World Series on Friday night at Taylor Field.
Despite earning MVP honors for his performance, McDonald was not at his best. The 2014 Pine Bluff High School graduate had to absolutely grind his way through seven frames.
“I struggled some, but I had the confidence my team is going to back me up,” McDonald said. “I was trying to get my mechanics back right.”
McDonald didn’t allow a hit until a two-out infield single in the fifth inning. The lefty, though, issued 10 walks in the game, which kept him from having any clean innings.
Despite his struggles, McDonald was able to dance out of trouble all night, allowing just one run through the first six frames, while stranding eight runners.
“Tough kid, man, he’s a tough kid,” said Tigers coach Ernest Wooten. “He hasn’t been at his best the last couple of games, but he’s still working hard.
“He did a good job (Friday night) helping put us in position to win.”
Tigers shortstop Jaylen Jackson was impressed with the way McDonald performed Friday night.
“He just battled,” Jackson said. “It’s his birthday (Friday), so it’s great that he just battled.
“He did a good job getting ground balls when he needed to.”
Jackson and the rest of the top of the order helped McDonald earn the win.
Leadoff hitter Kirel Young scored three times, Adam Graham had a sacrifice bunt and scored twice, while Jackson and cleanup hitter Trevor Langford each had two run-scoring hits.
“The top of the lineup came through for us,” Wooten said. “Adam Graham had been leading off for us all summer. He’d been struggling lately, so we dropped him to the No. 2 spot and had Kirel Young leadoff starting (Thursday night).
“It worked out well. They were getting on and Jaylen and Trevor did what they do.”
The biggest thing the offense did was break open the game late to give McDonald breathing room.
Pine Bluff took a 4-1 lead into the top of the seventh before erupting for six runs to seemingly put the game completely out of reach.
“That was huge,” McDonald said. “I knew they would help me.
“But it’s nice knowing they can help me on offense and defense even when I’m not batting.”
Jackson, a soon-to-be senior at Watson Chapel, said the offensive outburst helped everyone breathe a little easier.
“It was a huge relief,” he said. “For a while (McDonald) he kind of held us down and kept us in the game. I mean he had that no-hitter going into the fifth.
“It was nice to get those runs for him.”
As it turned out, McDonald would need all the run support he could get as Bryant finally started to string some hits together in the seventh.
Four singles and an error led to four runs in the frame, but an incredibly athletic defensive play from first baseman Jordan O’Guinn abruptly ended the Black Sox rally as well as the game.
The result improved Pine Bluff to 2-1 in the tournament and dropped Bryant to 0-2. The Tigers play their final round-robin game at 4 p.m. Saturday against Mississippi (2-0). A win would go a long way toward qualifying Pine Bluff for the tournament championship.
“We want to win this (next) game,” Jackson said. “Every game our approach is the same.
“Our motivation is always to win.”
Regardless of how Pine Bluff finishes the tournament, McDonald will likely always remember sharing his 19th birthday with his Tiger teammates.
“It made it special to get the win with my brothers,” he said. “It’s a great birthday present to myself.”
Mississippi 6, Relyance Bank 5
Relyance Bank let a 5-4 lead slip away as Mississippi Vision scored two runs in the seventh to earn a 6-5 walkoff win late Friday night at Taylor Field.
Franklin Hellingon earned the win for Mississippi, which improves to 3-0 in the PRO-DAY World Series.
Bailey Smith suffered the loss as White Hall fell to 0-2 in the tourney.
Mississippi 9, PRO-DAY 2
Ben McLarty and Ian Hawkins helped the Mississippi Vision improve to 2-0 in the PRO-DAY World Series.
McLarty drove in four runs while Hawkins tossed six strong innings as Vision beat PRO-DAY Elite, 9-2, Friday afternoon at Taylor Field.
McLarty hit a two-run homer in the first inning and two-run double in the third. He also scored runs in the fifth and seventh innings. McLarty also threw the final inning.
Hawkins, who earned MVP honors for the Olive Branch, Mississippi-based team, allowed one run (unearned) on three hits in his six frames.
Brandon Lowe reached in all three of his plate appearances for PRO-DAY, which falls to 1-1 in the tournament. Lowe, a soon-to-be senior at Pine Bluff High School, doubled in his first at-bat. He walked and was hit by a pitch in his other two ABs.