One Mississippi high school leads the nation in home runs. Where does the pop come from?
The West Harrison baseball program steadily developed a reputation for featuring some of the state’s best power hitters in recent years, but this season has produced numbers that few could have predicted.
The Hurricanes (21-7) are the nation’s best when it comes to the long ball in 2019. According to MaxPreps, West Harrison has 34 homers in 28 games, giving the team a 4-home run lead over the No. 2 squad, Mountain Pointe in the baseball hotbed of Phoenix, Arizona.
A year ago, Kasey Donaldson emerged as one of the state’s top power hitters as a West Harrison senior with a .500 batting average, 11 homers and 32 RBIs. He’s now playing at Pearl River Community College with nine homers and 12 doubles as a freshman.
With Dallas Baptist signee Tate Parker and Taylor Woodcock back for their senior years, the Hurricanes were again expected to have one of the better lineups on the Coast, but even the players themselves didn’t see these numbers coming.
“We’re definitely surprised,” Woodcock said. “Plenty of people asked what we were going to do without Kasey Donaldson. We’ve just come around as a team.”
After hitting .309 with three homers and 16 RBIs a year ago, Woodcock is the Hurricane who has taken the biggest leap this year. He is hitting .476 this year with a team-leading 10 homers, 14 doubles and 45 RBIs.
After committing to Dallas Baptist this past summer, Parker has fulfilled his potential as a senior. The outfielder/pitcher is hitting .510 with seven homers and 30 RBIs.
“A scout for the Rockies came here the other day and said, ‘Tell me about the Parker kid. Does he really play like his hair is on fire?’ I said, ‘You’re about to see it.’ He had two triples and two doubles. He was all over the park, making plays,” West Harrison coach David Marsland said. “Offensively and defensively, he’s a special player.”
While Parker and Woodcock have stepped up their games, the Hurricanes are hitting .363 as a team and the lineup is loaded throughout. Donaldson’s younger brother, D.K., is a junior first baseman and he is hitting .411 with six homers and 29 RBIs.
While Kasey provided pop from the left side of the plate, D.K. swings the bat from the right side.
“D.K. and Kasey are two different guys,” Marsland said. “Kasey was more of the power guy. D.K. is a gap-to-gap guy and if he gets a home run out, that’s great. He’s just trying to put the ball in play, hit it as hard as he can.”
Four other WHHS players have multiple home runs — junior Coleton Smith (4), sophomore Brennan Jones (3), junior Llanes Dickerson (2) and senior Derek Necaise (2).
Where it all started
Kasey Donaldson and Brandon Parker, Tate’s older brother, are two former Hurricanes who have gone on to become two of the better power hitters on the junior college level. Brandon Parker, a sophomore outfielder at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, joined his brother in signing with Dallas Baptist after hitting 24 homers as an MGCCC freshman. As a sophomore, he is hitting .337 with nine home runs and 27 RBIs.
Woodcock and Tate Parker both credit their former teammates for setting the tone for this year’s success.
“They definitely helped me get where I am today,” Woodcock said. “When I was a freshman and sophomore, they’d come pick me up to go get in extra work. Kasey and Brandon made me who I am today.”
Tate’s older brother is just a phone call away anytime he needs a tip.
“I’ll go through a little slump and I can have a conversation with him about what I can do to get out of it,” he said. “He’s my biggest motivator. It’s always good to have someone to look up to.
“It’s kind of like a culture we’ve got going here the past few years. We started winning district championships. Now it’s just something we feed off of and work together for.”
As the West Harrison hitting coach, Leon Farmer has been crucial to the program’s resurgence in recent years.
Farmer, who was a baseball star at Harrison Central before playing at MGCCC, Mississippi State and William Carey, wasn’t exactly a power hitter back in his day, but he has had a hand in producing some powerful lineups at West Harrison.
“That’s the key to the lock,” Woodcock said of Farmer. “He’s there when I need him, when I’m in a slump or when I’m doing good. He’s always on me hard to do better. I can always do better according to him.”
Along with a solid approach at the plate, Farmer and Marsland have helped instill a work ethic that involves plenty of time spent in the gym.
“In their freshman year, we pretty much destroy their bodies to the point where they get a good foundation and they just build on it,” Farmer said. “We’ve been lucky enough to have guys that bought in as freshmen and were able to build year after year. The guys not only do workouts here, but they get memberships at gyms across the Coast.
“They put in extra time. We’re either kicking them out of the cage or someone else is kicking them out of the weight room early in the year. They just feed off each other. They ride with each other, work out with each other. They spend a lot of time doing a lot of stuff outside of baseball. It’s all about the program and what we can do to be successful.”
Much to prove
While Tate Parker and his brother have already signed Division I scholarships, Woodcock is still waiting on his first Division I offer despite putting up some of the state’s best numbers at the plate and showing off some impressive defensive skills at shortstop.
Woodcock is on track to join Kasey Donaldson at PRCC for the 2020 season, but some Division I coaches have been through to check him out.
“I’ve had a bunch of college coaches talk to me, but there’s been nothing offered,” he said. “Southern Miss has talked to me, so has (Louisiana-Monroe) and Southeastern Louisiana. Hopefully, an opportunity will come my way.”
Until that offer comes, Woodcock is determined to put on a show at PRCC.
“PRCC felt like home and that’s the place I want to be, but I have more to prove,” he said.
Woodcock and the rest of the Hurricanes have more immediate concerns with their postseason set to begin next week following another Region 8-5A championship.
If the Hurricanes are to win their first state title, it will likely be on the back of the state’s best lineup.
“It’s the most special lineup I’ve ever had the opportunity of coaching,” Marsland said. “I (worked at St. Martin) 16 years and this is my seventh year at West Harrison. Through the years, we’ve had some teams with pop, but nothing like this. It kind of changes things because you’re afraid to do a lot of stuff you’d normally do because you don’t want to take a bat out of a kid’s hand. It’s a good problem to have.”