High School Sports

PRC, George County face tough South State tests

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD 
 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.

The two programs have had slightly different histories.

One Coast school won it all in 1997 and was South State champs in 1996 and 2015.

The other is set to make its South State debut.

Regardless of the past, both Pearl River Central and George County are on equal footing this weekend as they battle Hattiesburg and Petal respectively for the right to play for state championships.

Blue Devils

PRC, which is in the midst of its sixth straight playoff run but first Class 5A South State appearance, will travel to Hattiesburg on Thursday and will host the Tigers Saturday, with a potential Game 3 set for Saturday. All three games are set for 7 p.m. starts.

"We're playing our best baseball at the end of the year," PRC coach Neil Walther said. "Our bunch is resilient. We played four elimination games in nine days."

PRC (23-9) is plenty familiar with Region 7-5A foe Hattiesburg (24-7), having played the Tigers three times this season.

Hattiesburg swept PRC, but the first game was much closer than the 8-6 score might suggest. Aided by a handful of Blue Devil errors, the Tigers came back three times and eventually won the game.

"They put a lot of pressure on you," Walther said. "They play the game the right way. They run the bases well and make good decisions -- and they have three good arms.

"In order for us to be successful, we have to play well defensively because they take advantage of every single mistake."

HHS boasts one of the best players in the state in sophomore Joseph Gray, who is hitting .489 with 17 extra-base hits. The problem for PRC is the Blue Devils can't just avoid the talented sophomore as all of the Tigers are potentially dangerous.

"The thing about that team is the guy behind them can hit the ball," Walther said. "You just can't take a pitch off because they'll hammer you. You have to focus every pitch. Every pitch is important.

"They're going to be aggressive and you just have to try and make them hit your pitch.

PRC has been getting it done as a team, with a .281 team batting average and a 2.69 staff ERA.

Walther said each game a different player has stepped up to lead the Blue Devils. If PRC, which eliminated West Jones in three games, is to advance past HHS it will need more of the same.

Rebels

The Rebels (19-7) have won at least 19 games in four of coach Brandon Davis' five seasons back at his alma mater. They're also making their second straight South State appearance, which is becoming a welcomed tradition.

"When I came back to George County, this is what I envisioned us doing, competing deep into the playoffs," Davis said Wednesday. "Now, we competed in 5A and then moved up and competed in 6A -- and made it to South State with the guys we lost. It was a dream more than a goal to reach it.

"These guys have worked hard, bought into what we're doing and it's paying off."

The Class 6A South State series will open at GCHS Thursday at 6 p.m. Friday's game at Petal is set for a 7 p.m. start. If the series goes three games, the Rebels will host at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Both George County and Petal (17-9) have been on a tear. GCHS has won six straight and swept Pearl and Brandon. The Panthers are working off an 11-game winning streak after tearing through D'Iberville, Harrison Central and Terry to reach South State.

"They're rolling," Davis said. "They're not giving up many runs and they're scoring a ton."

George County has had a good mix of upper and underclassmen contributing and after shuffling the lineup, the Rebels have seen more consistency on offense.

"We have just found different ways to get it done," Davis said.

Senior catcher West Whittington has been crucial to the Rebels' success. Through 25 games, Whittington has career highs in batting average (.280), on-base percentage (.345) and slugging (.373). He's also been a reliable catcher, with smooth hands to receive pitches as well as an accurate arm to control the run game.

"He's got clutch hit after clutch hit after clutch hit," Davis said. "He does what a senior is supposed to do."

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