In 2015, when Joe Gray and Dexter Jordan were only freshmen, the star-studded duo assured their head coach, Joe Hartfield, that his first state championship was on the horizon. With Gray and Jordan leading an ultra-talented 2018 class, anything was possible. Still, Hartfield was skeptical.
“They were freshmen at the time, and I kind of laughed at them,” recalled Hartfield.
Click the link for video highlights and a postgame interview with Hattiesburg head coach Joe Hartfield: https://youtu.be/XOmbEJWLh-U
Some four years later, Gray and Jordan made good on their promise, helping Hattiesburg (26-10) win its first state baseball title since 2006. The Tigers treated their first trip to Trustmark Park in two years like a business trip, sweeping Lewisburg by a combined 20-6 in their best-of-three series for the Class 5A Championship.
“It’s unreal. This has been the goal since I first got under Hartfield, even as an eighth grader,” said Joe Gray, an Ole Miss signee. “Especially when we got to our ninth grade season, all of us were there. AJ [Stinson], Dex [Jordan], Kameron [Wells], me, Letrelle [Johnson]. All of us, we’ve been wanting this for God knows how long.”
Click the link for video highlights and a postgame interview with Joe Gray: https://youtu.be/IVgr5NT7sBc
That group made it to Trustmark Park as sophomores in 2016. In two games, they were overmatched against Oxford. This year was different though. With that experience, combined with last year’s early exit in South State, the Tigers carried a championship mindset into their return trip. And it showed.
In Tuesday’s Game 1, Hattiesburg used a stellar pitching performance from Landon Rascoe and a nine-run outburst between the first and fifth inning to beat Lewisburg, 9-5. On Thursday in Game 2, the Tigers didn’t change much, racing out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning on the way to an 11-1 win in five innings via the mercy rule. With pitching ace Dexter Jordan on the mound, Hattiesburg held down a Lewisburg offense that averaged nearly eight runs a game heading into the series.
Arm soreness and all, Jordan turned in yet another fine start in his complete game performance.
“I came in the dugout today, and they tossed me the ball,” said Jordan. “I had to go with it. That’s what happened. Unusually, we threw a lot of breaking balls and changeups. But it got a lot of outs and that works.”
Click the link for video highlights and a postgame interview with Dexter Jordan: https://youtu.be/9tHtJh-9s0M
“Dexter’s been a good pitcher for us for three and a half years now,” added Hartfield. “He’s been our number one for that long. It’s fitting that he’s on the mound when we win it all.”
Run support came in bunches for Jordan, especially early. Hattiesburg put up a three spot in the first inning and a four spot in the second, taking a 7-1 lead on Lewisburg. After a one-run third, the Tigers added three more in the fifth to end the game early. With the bases loaded, sophomore Jerry Burkett drove in the game-winning run for Hattiesburg. All told, the Tigers out-hit the Patriots 10-4 en route to the run-rule win.
“We knew we had to let the ball get up and let both pitchers from both games elevate the ball,” said Gray. “That’s what we did, man. When you leave the ball up in the zone in baseball, it’s bound to get hit. That’s exactly what we did. We were throwing together hits as a team.”
Gray and Jordan led the way with three hits apiece in their final game in a Tiger uniform.
“It’s a job well done and a great way to go out, especially with what’s coming forward,” said Gray. “I’m happy.”
Click the link for a photo gallery from Thursday’s Game 2: http://sports601final.wpengine.com/index.php/gallery-page-hattiesburg-wins-5a-title/
Jordan drove in a game-high three runs, while Gray and Kameron Wells each drove in two. Burkett, AJ Stinson, Letrelle Johnson and Caleb Tart added one RBI apiece. Together, it equalled a second dominant win in a row for Hartfield’s Tigers.
“After losing one game and just about losing another game, and having such close series against South Jones and West Jones, I was kind of expecting to go through the same stuff,” said Hartfield. “But our guys performed at a very, very high level in Game 1 and Game 2. I wasn’t expecting that, but I’m sure glad they did it.”
As previously mentioned, it’s Hartfield’s first state championship in his decorated career at both Hattiesburg and Lumberton.
“Personally, it means a lot. It’s the only thing I haven’t accomplished as a coach,” said Hartfield. “I’ve been close six time and been here four times. I’m smiling and crying at the same time, because I have chased it so hard. There’s a lot of people in the stands that I’ve coached before that knows how much it means to me. That’s why they came to watch it.”