Pearl River Central will be making its first state championship appearance at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Oxford, the Blue Devils’ opponent, is returning to Trustmark Park in Pearl for a shot at a third straight Class 5A championship.
Despite the difference in championship experience between the two squads, don’t bring up any “David versus Goliath” comparisons to PRC coach Neil Walther.
“This is a baseball series. Anything can happen in a baseball game,” Walther said Monday, comparing baseball to other prep sports that don’t use postseason series. “I’m sure they’re probably the favorite and I don’t really care. Really I don’t.
“That’s not worth any runs.”
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PRC (26-11) is a loose bunch, Walther said. The Blue Devils vanquished some postseason demons in the last round, taking two-of-three from the reigning 5A South State champs in Hattiesburg. The series wasn’t without some drama Thursday as PRC blew an 8-1 lead in Game 1, surrendering eight runs in a nightmarish seventh inning to lose the opener 9-8.
All the Blue Devils did after that, however, was run-rule HHS 12-2 the next day. They finished off the Tigers 7-4 on Saturday.
Because of how his team responded over the weekend, Walther doesn’t anticipate the magnitude of this week’s best-of-three series affecting his players.
“I don’t worry about these guys being tight. If they were going to be tight they would have had every opportunity Friday and they didn’t do it,” Walther said. “...These kids are resilient. Sometimes kids will put on a little act, but none of them are that good actors.
“They were loose. They flushed the (9-8 loss) and it showed.”
PRC defeated Pascagoula in three games and then swept West Jones and Long Beach to advance to last week’s 5A South State series.
Oxford (31-5) earned a first-round bye and then sandwiched sweeps of Ridgeland and New Hope around a three-game series against Lewisburg.
Walther said preparing for the matchup has been difficult because they haven’t played one another and don’t share a common opponent. As such, Walther said they’re focusing on themselves.
“The only thing I know about them is they’re really good. We’re not worrying about who we play, just how we play,” Walther said. “What we’re going to do is we’re going to call the game to our pitchers’ strengths. That’s all we can do.
“... We’re not going to reinvent the wheel tomorrow.”
The Chargers enter the series with a .324 team batting average to go along with 30 homers, 104 extra-base hits and a 2.46 ERA. The team’s two college commitments may be familiar to college baseball fans as they’re the sons of Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco. Senior Ben Bianco is a Louisville signee. He’s hitting .330 with team highs in homers (8) and RBIs (43). Junior Drew Bianco is committed to LSU. He’s hitting .396 with seven homers and 38 RBIs.
“You can’t make mistakes,” Walther said. “Against really good teams they capitalize on them. We’ve got to make plays and not walk folks; make them work for everything they get.”
PRC is hitting .297 as a team with 17 home runs, 66 stolen bases and a 2.62 ERA. A number of Blue Devils have played well in the postseason, including sophomore catcher and Ole Miss commit Hayden Dunhurst. He was named the Sun Herald’s Player of the Week after going 4-for-8 with two three-run homers against HHS.
“You’re going to see some pitches to hit when you have guys hitting behind you like he does and he hasn’t missed a whole lot,” Walther said.
Something to watch
One match-up to watch will be Oxford’s base runners against Dunhurst and the Blue Devil pitchers.
The Chargers love to run — and that’s putting it mildly. Oxford is third in the state with 145 stolen bases in 158 tries according to MaxPreps.com.
PRC allowed just two stolen bases in three games against Hattiesburg, a stat Walther attributed to the combination of Dunhurst and his pitchers doing a good job of picking and mixing delivery speeds.
The series opens at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Chargers and Blue Devils won’t play Game 2 until 1 p.m. Friday. All of the state championship games will be streamed online at misshsaa.tv. Thursday and Friday’s games will also be televised on Bounce 13.3. The action will also be called on WRJW 1320, WRJW.com and the WRJW app. Tickets are $13 per day.
PRC could be joined by one more Coast team. Gulfport and Oak Grove played Game 3 of the Class 6A South State Series on Monday at GHS. The Admirals took Game 1, 7-3, on Thursday, but the Warriors surged late on Saturday to pull out a 3-2 victory. The series was interrupted Friday due to weather.
5A championship schedule
Location: Trustmark Park, Pearl
7 p.m., — Game 1: Pearl River Central vs. Oxford
1 p.m. — Game 2: Pearl River Central vs. Oxford
Note: Game 3 is TBD