POPLARVILLE, Miss. (WLOX) -Wearing their golden pants Sunday, the No. 3 Pearl River baseball Wildcats walked off visiting Northeast in Game 1, 13-5, in seven innings to clinch the program’s fourth MACCC Championship. In the nightcap, PRCC scored early and held on late to tame the Tigers 8-6.
“I’m proud of them. It doesn’t hit you until right now. How tough what we did all year was. How tough this year was on us and how special that group behind me is,” Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said. “We came out and swung the bats. They had their best guy on the mound and I knew we would have to battle. I was kind of glad that we were trailing because you saw the heart of a champion when they battled back.
“These guys are brothers. They’re special. A special group. I’m just thankful to be part of it. What a day to be a Wildcat.”
Pearl River (33-7 overall; 23-5 MACCC) now earns a bye through the state playoffs and advances straight into the Region XXIII Tournament, which is scheduled to be played May 17-22 at The Dub.
Following in the tradition that former Pearl River Hall of Fame coach Jay Artigues started, the Wildcats only dust off the pants if they’re playing for a championship.
“We wore the mustards my freshman year (in the 2019 Region XXIII Championship Game) and it’s a different kind of attitude when you’re playing in these because you know that you’re playing for something more than what you normally are,” said Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison). “When you put these uniforms on you’ve got to win.
“It’s unbelievable the feeling that you have when you put on these uniforms.”
Sunday’s state championship team joins Wildcat squads from 1939, 2004 and 2018.
Tate Parker (Gulfport; West Harrison) opened the scoring in the bottom of the third, belting a grand slam over the center field wall.
The Tigers worked a five-run fifth to surge ahead 5-4
After a couple quiet frames the Wildcats exploded for a seven-run sixth. The first nine Wildcats reached base safely before PRCC even recorded an out. Austen Izzio (Carriere; Pearl River Central) was plunked to open the inning. After John Griffin Bell (Mobile, Ala.; Faith Academy) doubled to center field, Nick Skaggs (Biloxi) was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Graham Crawford (Sumrall) then doubled in two runs to leapfrog PRCC back into the lead, 6-5. A hard-hit ball from Parker plated another run. After Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison) singled, Von Seibert (Daphne, Ala.) smacked a grand slam to center. The round-tripper extended PRCC’s lead to 11-5.
Appropriately, the Wildcat’s home run leader finished things off in the seventh. After Crawford worked a one-out walk, Parker hit a no-doubter just to the right of the batter’s eye to walk-off the Tigers (17-23; 10-18) and sent the Wildcats into pandemonium. The Wildcat center fielder had barely touched home plate before he was mobbed by his teammates.
“That’s the Player of the Year who just hit that home run,” Avalon said. “No question. I’d put him up against anybody.”
The homer put Parker back into the team lead with his 15th round-tripper of the season.
Every Wildcat batter reached base in the game. Bell was a difficult out, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two doubles. Parker, who tied Donaldson with a two-hit day, drove in a team-high seven runs. Seibert finished with four RBIs. Crawford and Taylor Woodcock (Pass Christian; West Harrison) each walked twice.
“This year has been a rush,” said Parker. “Coming to a team like this where everyone is all in and bought in. We came out in the golds (jerseys) and won state today. It just felt awesome. The intensity today was through the roof. When you break out the mustards, Pearl River is on fire.”
Turner Swistak (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove) earned the big start. The freshman pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing five runs on six hits and one walk. He also struck out two. Reid Reynolds (Heidelberg; Northeast Jones) earned the win in relief, tossing 1 1/3 scoreless innings.
Landon Harper (Lauderdale; Northeast Lauderdale) pitched a scoreless seventh, striking out one.
The Wildcats steadily built a 4-0 lead in Game 2, scoring in each of the first three innings. After Crawford singled in a run earlier in the frame, Matt Mercer (Petal) belted a moonshot of a home run over the left-field wall in the first.
Bell tripled in Kris Jones (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove) in the second for a 3-0 lead. Dalton Cummins (Seminary) tacked on a fourth run in the third with a single that scored Parker.
After NEMCC plated three runs in the fourth to pull within one, 4-3, Pearl River responded by tacking on three more runs in the fifth inning. All three of PRCC’s runs came with two outs.
Woodcock singled home Mercer to open the inning’s scoring. Two batters later Bell was plunked, scoring Eric Newsom (Madison; Germantown). Donaldson then worked a walk, scoring Woodcock.
The Wildcats added an eighth run for an 8-4 lead in the sixth on a Woodcock single.
Northeast got two runs back in the seventh, but the Wildcats closed the game out to clinch the sweep.
Mercer led all Wildcats in Game two with three hits and three runs scored. D.K. Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison) and Woodcock each tallied two hits. Newsom and Jones each walked twice in the win.
Six different Wildcats took the mound in Game 2. Jacob Scherer (Mandeville, La.; St. Paul’s) opened the game, throwing two scoreless innings. After Sam Hill (Soso; West Jones) tossed a scoreless inning, Landon Rawson (Kosciusko; Central Holmes Academy) recorded two outs. Shelby Terrell (Foxworth; West Marion) was next up, striking out three in 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Kasey Donaldson made his pitching debut in the sixth, striking out two against one run. Trace McNabb (Foxworth; West Marion) pitched the seventh.
Pearl River is still set to make up a rained-out game against Hinds, hosting the Eagles at 3 p.m. Friday for a single nine-inning game.
The Region XXIII Tournament is scheduled to take place May 17-22 at The Dub.