High School Sports

Path to state title becoming clear for 3 South Mississippi baseball teams

 George County pitcher Walker Robbins fires a pitch against D'Iberville, Friday, Apr. 15, 2016.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD George County pitcher Walker Robbins fires a pitch against D'Iberville, Friday, Apr. 15, 2016.

And then there were three.

The MHSAA's contention picture is starting to come into focus as the state's baseball playoffs open the third round.

Three Coast teams remain in the hunt.

St. Patrick and Pearl River Central open Round 3 of the 3A and 5A playoffs Thursday, while George County is back in action Friday.

St. Patrick

The Fighting Irish (16-7) will face St. Andrews on the road before returning home Friday. Game 3, if necessary, will be Monday. All three games are set for 6:30 p.m. starts.

It's a quick turnaround for a St. Patrick team that had to win Tuesday night to advance. The Southeast Lauderdale series was close throughout. After winning the opener 6-4, St. Patrick dropped the second game 10-9 before earning a decisive 4-3 victory.

"I think it ought to give our kids a good bit of confidence to know they have it in them to win close games against good teams," St. Patrick coach Eddie Burger said. "Both teams had chances to pull away and take advantage of scoring opportunities, but both pitchers sucked it up, bore down and didn't allow the big inning to happen."

Burger has been proud of his pitching staff, which has led the team through the postseason.

Peter Holland and Blaise Butirich have seen the most starts, but Aaron Broadus, Robert Starks, Seth Allen, Chet Rodrigue and Jamie Luzenburg have been reliable options when called upon.

"The biggest reason we've done what we have is the way our pitching staff has performed for majority of the year," Burger said. "Even in some losses, we were in the game and had chances to win."

Offensively, St. Patrick is hitting .285 as a team with 11 homers. Beau Bratton and Holland have supplied the thump, combining for eight homers, while Spencer Sliman has been on a tear overall, hitting .493.

St. Andrews (23-8), located in Ridgeland, is hitting .301 as a team with four homers. The Saints also have 65 stolen bases as a team and a 2.19 staff ERA. Ace Stephen Atkins is 9-1 with a 1.28 ERA. His 106 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings rank second in the state.

Pearl River Central

Like St. Patrick, PRC (21-8) will have to bounce back quickly after eliminating West Harrison in Game 3 on Tuesday.

The Blue Devils needed a dominant pitching performance to get past the Hurricanes and got one as Cody Miller and Rigell Robinson combined for a 1-0 shutout victory against a potent WHHS team.

PRC coach Neil Walther credited his team's strong pitching and defense for getting the club to a third round matchup against West Jones (23-8).

"We don't walk very many people and we didn't make an error the last game and maybe three total in the first two games," he said. "If you don't walk people and don't make errors, they have to put hits together and they weren't able to do that."

While the pitching and defense has gotten PRC far this season, Walther would like to see the offense step up a bit more against the Mustangs.

The Blue Devils are hitting .274 as a team with freshman catcher Hayden Dunhurst accounting for four of the team's five homers.

PRC scored 10 runs in a two-game sweep of Wayne County, but mustered just seven in three games against the Hurricanes.

West Jones, meanwhile, is coming off a two-game sweep of Brookhaven where it outscored the Panthers 18-6.

"We've just got to figure out how to hit the ball," Walther said. "We had a lot of baserunners to only score six runs in the first two games (against WHHS).

"We'll just need someone to come up with the big hit. Hitting is contagious so it's kind of a pass the bat situation."

The series opens at WJHS Thursday. PRC will host Friday, with the series returning to West Jones on Monday if necessary. All three games are set for 7 p.m. starts.

George County

George County (17-7) had a first round bye in the 6A playoffs and tore through Pearl, out-scoring the Panthers 19-0, in Round 2.

Now the Rebels will face a well-rounded Brandon team (25-6) that has a 2.38 staff ERA to go along with a .318 team batting average, seven homers, eight triples and 59 doubles. The Bulldogs have also stolen 69 bases in 79 attempts.

"They're really good," GCHS coach Brandon Davis said bluntly. "They're coached by Stacey Hester, who was at New Hope in 1996 when they went 43-0.

"He has been around a while and is a good coach. They'll be prepared."

One of the Bulldogs' top players is closer J.T. Ginn. The sophomore is already committed to Mississippi State and after taking a glimpse at his statistics, it's clear why. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound right-hander has a 0.97 ERA and 10 saves. He also has 42 strikeouts in 29 innings of work.

"We're going to try and make sure the closer doesn't get in the game," Davis said. "Best way to avoid that."

The recent offensive outburst has been a good trend for Davis. Earlier in the year the Rebels were struggling to score consistently. That hasn't been a problem of late, outscoring their last four opponents -- all playoff teams -- 34-5.

"We feel like we changed the lineup around a little bit and have everything working," Davis said. "I think more than anything we're going to have to do what we've been doing and not become overwhelmed."

The series opens Friday with a 7 p.m. start at Brandon. George County hosts the series at 2 p.m. Saturday with a return trip to Brandon at 7 p.m. Monday if necessary.