This may be the weekend, but Mississippi college baseball teams are still hard at work.
Ole Miss has battled its way into the final four of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Southern Miss is one of two unbeaten teams remaining in the Conference USA Tournament. Delta State, down 1-0, plays at Tampa again today in an NCAA Division II Super Regional. Mississippi State is preparing to host an NCAA Regional next week.
You might well have known about all that, but did you know that Pearl River Community College is the top seed in the National Junior College World Series that begins today in Enid, Oklahoma? The Wildcats might be the most “Mississippi” team of them all. Twenty-six of the 29 players on Pearl River’s roster are Mississippians. The other three are from neighboring Alabama.
They can play ball. Thirteen of the 29 already have signed scholarships – or committed to sign – at four-year schools. They take a 40-12 record into the national tournament and are coming off an impressive sweep through four nationally ranked teams in the recent NJCAA Region 23 tournament. To get to Oklahoma, No. 6 Pearl River beat No. 4 Jones, No. 9 Northwest, No. 1 Itawamba and then No. 1 LSU-Eunice. Five of the six teams in the Region 23 tournament were ranked in the Top 10 nationally.
“I think our league and our schedule have prepared us for this,” said Michael Avalon, Pearl River’s head coach. “We play in the best region in the country. Some people call it the SEC of junior college baseball.”
No team in the national tournament is ranked as highly as the top three ranked teams Pearl River defeated last week.
“These guys have an opportunity now to make their dreams come true,” Avalon said. “My challenge to them is to focus on two things and that’s your focus and your effort.”
Avalon, a Jackson native, is in his third season as Pearl River’s coach. His first Wildcats team won 29 games. His second team won 38 games and a state championship. His third will be the first Pearl River team to play in the national world series since 2002.
The junior college World Series is a 10-team, double elimination event. The tournament was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday with No. 8 Pasco-Hernando (Fla.) College playing No. 9 Lackawanna (Pa.) College. Heavy rains in the Enid area have delayed the start until at least 1 p.m. Saturday. Pearl River is set to play the winner Sunday afternoon at a time to be determined.
The Wildcats rely greatly on power with five players having slugged nine or more home runs. Dexter Jordan, a former Hattiesburg High star, leads the way with 18 homers, followed by Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport and West Harrison) with 13, Wiley Cleland (Columbia Academy) and Reece Ewing (Faith Academy, Mobile) with 11 and Austen Izzio (Pearl River Central) with nine.
Pearl River also boasts a strong one-two punch in starting pitchers with Raleigh’s Shemar Page (7-1) and Northeast Jones’ Miles Smith (8-3) both averaging more than a strikeout per inning.
This will be Pearl River’s second trip to the World Series. In 2002, the Wildcats went 1-2 before being eliminated. Jones Junior College (2016) is the only Mississippi team to ever win the national championship.