The Coast has long been loaded with top notch high school baseball programs, but St. Martin has mostly served as an afterthought in the sport throughout its history.
With an 11-1 win Friday to finish off a decisive Class 6A South State sweep of Biloxi, the St. Martin Yellow Jackets announced their arrival as another program to add to the list of South Mississippi juggernauts. St. Martin (27-7) advances to the state title round for the first time in program history, outscoring the Indians by the total of 16-2 over two games.
The Yellow Jackets await the winner of Northwest Rankin-DeSoto Central with Game 1 of the Class 6A state title series set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
Friday’s win gave the Yellow Jackets four consecutive victories after flirting with elimination after losing Game 1, 6-3, against Oak Grove in the previous round.
“We had our backs against the wall,” said Bridges, who began to choke back tears. “I got here three years ago, to do this is special.
“It means a lot to me as a coach because of the total effort that our guys have put in and given me for three years.”
Five seniors on the St. Martin roster have been playing on the varsity level since they were eighth-graders and they were witness to some lean times for the program, including a 6-21 season in 2016.
On Friday, that group took part in a celebratory dog pile after senior pitcher Leo Harris tossed the ball to first base for the final out.
After all the hard work that Harris and the rest of the senior class put together to get to this point, Friday’s contest was a blur of a ball game that lasted five innings and 1 ½ hours.
It was a short but sweet experience for the St. Martin side.
“I’m on cloud nine,” Harris said after putting together one of his best performances of the season. “It’s amazing.”
The five seniors who have been varsity Yellow Jackets since they were eighth-graders are Harris, catcher R.J. Fletcher, pitcher/shortstop Leif Moore, third baseman Brennen Study and outfielder Landon Pankonin.
“It’s something we always dreamed of,” Harris said. “To work this hard, getting where we are right now is just an amazing feeling.”
Against a Biloxi squad that entered the series with a record of 29-3, it was stunning how soundly the Yellow Jackets dominated the series. The high point for St. Martin came in the first inning when it sent 13 batters to the plate and put up 10 runs on seven hits.
St. Martin’s first run crossed the plate when Biloxi third baseman Colten Keith couldn’t track down a pop fly off the bat of Leif Moore. The infield fly rule was called on the play, retiring Moore, but allowing the third base runner, Harris, to make the move to home. Keith threw toward home, but the Biloxi catcher failed to make the tag, thinking he had a force play, and his throw to third failed to get the runner there. Harris crossed home plate safely and it seemed as if everything went right for the Yellow Jackets the rest of the inning.
The Yellow Jackets were already leading 5-0 with two out when Harris stepped to the plate again with two men on and sent a shot well over the left field fence. The senior UAB signee has had plenty of success at the plate and on the pitcher’s mound throughout his career, but the homer was the first as a high school player.
“Me, Leif and Dane (Dutil) were all standing there, saying ‘Leo is due. He’s bout to hit one right here.’” Study said. “The next pitch, he hits one out. I’m happy for him.”
Two batters later, Study added his own two-run homer off Keith, who relieved starter Matthew Delano in the inning, to push the lead to 10-0.
“That’s the best energy I’ve ever felt,” Study said of the 10-run frame. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in a ball game.”
Even though Biloxi scored 18 runs in a game to finish of a sweep of Brandon in the previous round, there was little doubt in the outcome following the first inning. After Moore tossed a 1-run, 2-hit complete-game performance in Game 1, Harris limited the Indians to a single run on three hits. He struck out three and walked none in the five-inning complete game.
“Biloxi is a great team,” Bridges said. “That’s what it makes it special. We just beat a really, really good team.”
West Jones 8, Pearl River Central 3
The West Jones baseball team clinched a spot in the Class 5A state title series with a win Friday night at Pearl River Central.
West Jones (27-5) is scheduled to play the winner of Saltillo-Lafayette in the state title round at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
PRC ends the season with a record of 23-13.