High School Sports

Three teams remain in Coast’s quest for baseball championship

Blake Johnson of Gulfport pitches against Ocean Springs. The Admirals are set to face Oak Grove in the Class 6A South State series.
Blake Johnson of Gulfport pitches against Ocean Springs. The Admirals are set to face Oak Grove in the Class 6A South State series. ttisbell@sunherald.com file

One might think Pearl River Central and Hattiesburg are sick of one another by now, but that’s not necessarily the case.

The way PRC coach Neil Walther sees it, the region rivals are just really familiar with each other at this point.

When the Region 7-5A foes take the field Thursday in a rematch of last year’s Class 5A South State series, it’ll be the ninth time in two seasons the two teams have played.

The Class 5A South State showdown is one of three this weekend involving Coast schools. Gulfport (30-3) and Oak Grove (28-4) will meet in Class 6A, with Resurrection (22-8) and Nanih Waiya (24-2) clashing in Class 1A.

The Tigers swept PRC in last year’s postseason before Oxford took two straight in the championship series. This year, PRC (24-10) won 2 of 3 against the Tigers (25-9) but Walther doesn’t believe the familiarity favors either team.

“I don’t think anyone is going into the series thinking ‘we can’t win this game,’” he said Wednesday. “They certainly have our respect and I think we have theirs.”

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the eight previous meetings is that to beat Hattiesburg, PRC will have to play next to perfect.

“You just have to play great against Hattiesburg. They capitalize on everything. You have to play a solid defensive game and throw strikes,” Walther said. “You can’t give them anything. You can’t walk them or make errors.”

Hattiesburg is hitting .321 as a team with 57 extra-base hits, 81 stolen bases and a staff ERA of 3.15. While the Tigers can hurt you in a number of ways, two players stand out: Juniors Dexter Jordan and Joe Gray. Jordan is a Louisiana-Lafayette commit who is hitting .386 with 11 extra-base hits, 29 RBIs and seven stolen bases. Gray, an Ole Miss commit, is hitting .471 with 19 extra-base hits, 34 RBIs, 41 runs scored and 18 stolen bases. Perfect Game ranks Gray as the No. 4 prep prospect in the 2018 MLB Draft.

“Everybody asks me how you beat Hattiesburg. You pitch to Joe Gray with nobody on base. That’s how you do it,” Walther said. “He’s legit. He’s projected as a first-round guy and he’s as advertised.”

PRC isn’t a bunch of slouches, either. The Blue Devils are hitting .294 as a team with 64 extra-base hits, 62 stolen bases and a 2.59 staff ERA. Eli Lee leads the team with a .373 average, while Ole Miss commit Hayden Dunhurst has team-highs in homers (8), extra-base hits (16) and RBIs (38). He’s one of six regulars hitting .286 or better. Rigell Robinson (6-3, 2.22 ERA), Hayden LeBeau (5-3, 3.25) and Cade Lee (6-0, 2.05) have been the leaders on the mound.

The series opens Thursday at Hattiesburg before heading to PRC on Friday. Game 3, if necessary, will be back at HHS on Saturday. All three games are at 7 p.m.

Class 1A

This year is easily Resurrection’s most successful in recent memory. After experiencing moderate success under Stan Hatcher the last two seasons, former Pascagoula coach Johnny Olsen stepped in and has taken the Eagles to new heights.

“They just needed a little change of culture and the way we wanted to approach things,” Olsen said. “We took a real business-like approach. The foundation had already been there.

“I just took what Coach Hatcher had already started.”

After sweeping Leake County and Noxapater in the first two rounds, RCS had to scrap with Ethel to reach the 1A South State series against perennial power Nanih Waiya.

“We played some very good competition early in the season like Biloxi, Moss Point, Bay and some schools in Mobile,” Olsen said. “I think it got us ready for some situations with some good competition. I think that has really helped us out a lot.”

RCS is hitting .328 as a team with juniors Patrick Lee and Ty Tingle really setting the tone. Tingle is hitting .494 with 18 extra-base hits, 32 RBIs and 30 stolen bases.

“The way they go is how our offense goes,” Olsen said. “Ty is our lead-off guy and runs the bases as well as anybody I’ve ever coached. he’s just so aggressive.

Lee is hitting .528 with 18 extra-base hits, 26 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.

“I just can’t say enough about what he has done as far as driving runs in and getting big hits for us,” Olsen said. “He’s a guy we really want at the plate when we need runs.”

Only a freshman, Elijah Watts (5-2, 1.60) has been Mr. Dependable on the mound for RCS.

“He’s a good one,” Olsen said. “He just turned 15 last week but he has a great mound presence.

“He never gets rattled, doesn’t matter if he has a lead or is down. He just keeps plugging away and does what he needs to do to win.”

Thursday’s game at RCS, and Friday’s at Nanih Waiya are both at 6 p.m. Saturday’s game at RCS, if needed, will be at 7 p.m.

Class 6A

Yes, the Admirals only have three losses on the season, but they don’t have a ton of blowout wins on their resume. Gulfport has had to scrap out quite a few of its 30 wins this year, including close outcomes during its current postseason run.

Heading into Thursday’s opener against perennial 6A contender Oak Grove, coach Jamie McMahon feels his team has been battle tested enough that it’s up to the tall task ahead. He doesn’t believe one team is the favorite or underdog — just two quality baseball teams that are worthy of representing the South in next week’s Class 6A State Championship Series.

“We’ve seen a lot of situations this year,” McMahon said. “We have blown a few people out, but we’ve been in games where we have had to come back, too.

“I think our kids have seen a little bit of everything. That gives us a little confidence to stay calm and play.”

Oak Grove is hitting .347 as a team with 18 homers, 83 stolen bases and a 2.45 ERA.

“They can swing the bat. They always have a really good batting average as a team,” McMahon said. “They’re always going to be solid. They’re well coached, have arms and can play some defense.

“Overall, just a good team. They have every ingredient that you want in a team.”

Gulfport is hitting .301 with 26 homers and a miniscule 1.41 ERA.

Gulfport will host Thursday and Saturday, with Oak Grove welcoming the series Friday. All three games start at 7 p.m.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

South State schedule

Thursday

1A: Nanih Waiyah at Resurrection, 6 p.m.

5A: Pearl River Central at Hattiesburg, 7 p.m.

6A: Oak Grove at Gulfport, 7 p.m.

Friday

1A: Resurrection at Nanih Waiyah, 6 p.m.

5A: Hattiesburg at Pearl River Central, 7 p.m.

6A: Gulfport at Oak Grove, 7 p.m.

Saturday

1A: Nanih Waiyah at Resurrection, 6 p.m.

5A: Pearl River Central at Hattiesburg, 7 p.m.

6A: Oak Grove at Gulfport, 7 p.m.

  Comments