The George County baseball team slugged its way to a South State championship a year ago.
Although that was a different team, playing in a lower classification, the Rebels are eying a return trip to Pearl, this time as a Class 6A power.
After earning a first-round bye last week, the Rebels (15-7) open their post-season push Friday with a 6 p.m. home game against Pearl (19-10).
Rather than rest up last week, the Rebels went out and played West Harrison and Hattiesburg in two exhibition games, out-scoring the two 5A schools 15-5.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Sun Herald
"We feel pretty good as far as our offense is finally starting to wake up a little bit," GCHS coach Brandon Davis said. "We finally got the number of at-bats we needed. With so many rain outs, our guys just really hadn't gotten enough at-bats. That's helped us a lot."
After stumbling in a doubleheader on May 9, the Rebels closed out the regular season winning four of their last five.
The streak has Davis believing his team could be in the title hunt once again.
"The most important thing this time of year is to get hot," he said. "You have to get hot and the only way to do that is to play."
Davis credited a complete-team effort for the recent offensive improvement. Specifically, Davis bumped shortstop Bryson Scott up into the second spot in the order and put center fielder Bryson Solomon behind left-handed thumper Walker Robbins to provided some needed protection.
"(Scott) has the ability. He can bunt really well and he has just come on and swung the bat real well lately," Davis said. "We DHd for him most of the season for him, but for whatever reason he just started to wake up."
MLBPipeline.com recently ranked Robbins as the 91st prospect in June's draft. If the Rebels are to advance, they'll need the two-way star to continue to produce and put pressure on the opposition.
Long Beach - Hattiesburg
After tearing through Natchez in the first round of the 5A playoffs last week, Long Beach (14-12) will have a bit more difficult of a task this week against Hattiesburg (20-7).
"I know they have some long ball potential even through they play in a really big ball park. It looks like they have four or five guys who can run it out of a yard," LBHS coach Shane Rutledge said. "They also have three (pitchers) with really good numbers."
The HHS player to watch is sophomore Joseph Gray. The shortstop/right-hander is hitting .481 on the season with six homers, seven doubles, two triples, 40 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. He also boasts a 3.46 ERA for the Tigers.
As for LBHS, Rutledge believes the Bearcats are playing sound baseball all around heading into the best-of-three series, which opens at HHS at 7 p.m. Friday.
Junior Clayton Maxwell has been the offensive leader for LBHS, hitting .343 heading into the series. Rutledge said if Maxwell and senior Tyler Allen can make teams pay for putting runners on base ahead of them, they should be fine. Starting pitcher Josh Borzik (2.66 ERA, 4-3) has also been reliable for the Bearcats.
"Those are the guys who are the backbone of our team," Rutledge said.
LBHS will host Hattiesburg at 7 p.m. Saturday.
St. Patrick - SE Lauderdale
Like Long Beach, St. Patrick (14-6) buzzed through its first round opponent, Franklin County. Now the Fighting Irish open their Class 3A second round matchup against Southeast Lauderdale (14-13) with a 6 p.m. road game Friday.
Coach Eddie Burger said his team is hitting on all cylinders heading into the series.
"We were fortunate enough to find our stride in the last couple of weeks," he said.
A key part of the Fighting Irish's success has been the pitching duo of Blaise Butirich (2.88, 4-1) and Peter Holland (2.65, 5-2).
"It starts on the mound," Burger said. "Those two guys have given us a chance all year."
The series heads to St. Patrick at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Gulfport opened its series at Brandon on Thursday. Other baseball series include: Harrison Central vs. Petal, Pascagoula vs. South Jones, West Harrison vs. Pearl River Central, Bay vs. Newton County and Resurrection vs. Noxapater.