High School Sports

Sun Herald unveils baseball player, coach of the year

GULFPORT -- The interview was supposed to be all about him.

As the 2016 Sun Herald Baseball Player of the Year, Walker Robbins was supposed to talk about himself. Pump his own tires a bit; after all, he deserved it.

But he wouldn't.

Similarly, Pearl River Central's Neil Walther talked about his team as a cohesive unit. Without one of the pieces, who knows how far the Blue Devils could have gone this season? Together, however, PRC made its deepest postseason run ever -- with the 2016 Sun Herald Baseball Coach of the Year at the helm.

Walker Robbins

There was little doubt that when teams scouted George County, they were most curious what Robbins would do. A Mississippi State signee and possible Top 100 draft pick in the rapidly approaching MLB draft, Robbins was the focal point of opponents' game planning. But, as Robbins pointed out, the Rebels wouldn't have made it to the Class 6A championship series -- one year after playing for the 5A crown -- had it not been for the teammates around Robbins.

"We had some guys really step up," Robbins said. "At the beginning of the year we were just trying to figure out who we were and about half way through the season everything started clicking."

Even with the additional attention from opponents -- and scouts; so many scouts -- Robbins was a legit two-way terror. On the mound, Robbins finished with an 8-2 record, 0.67 ERA and 110 strikeouts against 18 walks in 72 2/3 innings. Five times he boasted 10-plus strikeouts, with three more nine-strikeout performances. Checking off the list of achievements, Robbins' no-hitter against D'Iberville and perfect game against Greene County have to stand out as well.

At the plate, Robbins was just as dangerous. He hit .477 with three homers, nine doubles, 16 RBIs and 42 hits. He even stole six bases -- a stat he's rather proud of -- and finished with a .600 on-base percentage with a .704 slugging percentage.

"I was just trying to help my team out the best I could," Robbins said modestly. "There was some pressure put on but I tried not to let it get to me, just kept going out there and playing baseball.

"It could get overwhelming at times, but you just have to do what you've been doing."

The southpaw is listed at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds. With that size come certain expectations -- or assumed limitations, as Robbins put it. This season he said he wanted to prove that he was a complete all-round player, which he seemingly did.

"I feel like some people at the beginning of the year really questioned my speed, but I showed that I can move pretty good for my size," he said. "I showed a little more power batting, too, so I feel like that helped me out."

So, now Robbins waits for the draft. The Rebel will likely have a decision to make, whether he goes to school like his oldest brother, Mason, or signs and starts his career as the latest Coast standout in the professional ranks.

Either way, Robbins can look back on his prep career with a sense of pride for helping to lead the Rebels to consecutive South State titles while establishing a new normal at GCHS.

Neil Walther

Walther incrementally built up PRC during his nine seasons in Carriere, from single-digit wins his first couple of seasons to a 23-11 record in 2016.

This past season was the Blue Devils' best as they plodded through the Class 5A playoffs all the way to the South State series, before falling to eventual Class 5A runner-up Hattiesburg.

The Blue Devils' march through the postseason was anything but easy. After sweeping Wayne County in the first round, PRC lost the opener against West Harrison only to turn around and win the next two. The Blue Devils did the same thing in third round against West Jones.

"I think resiliency is the best way to describe the playoffs, just the way they battled through it," Walther said. "To play two Game 3s. In nine days they played four elimination games and it just didn't seem to phase them. They played hard and they played with composure.

"I don't think the games ever got too big for them."

Throughout the run, Walther proved to be a calming presence in his dugout. Not one to coddle his players, Walther knew what buttons to push to get the most out of his players.

As a result, a mix of players contributed for PRC.

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