On Wednesday, the Pearl River Community College baseball team will board a bus for Enid, Oklahoma to play in the program’s first World Series since 2002. Newly crowned champions of Region 23, the Wildcats punched their ticket to the tournament and laid claim to its top seed by beating four top 10 teams in four days, including No. 1 LSU-Eunice in Sunday’s region title game.
On the five-hour bus ride from Fulton back to Poplarville, sophomore Wildcat Shemar Page says he thought to himself, “Gah-lee, we just won the regional”. That was the expectation all along for this team, though.
“It started with a vision from our administration and from a lot of people that have loved Pearl River baseball and have a passion for this program,” third-year head coach Michael Avalon said. “As far as our staff and program, it’s something we talked about every day, especially this year in August. Our ultimate goal was to go to Enid, Oklahoma and play for a World Series.”
In addition to returning a strong group of sophomores, the Wildcats also reeled in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes leading into the 2019 season, so talent was never the question with this team. However, it’s not always that simple, according to Avalon.
“All these guys are used to being the best player on their high school team,” he explained. “Coming in, they may have thought they were gonna be the most talented, but they walk in and realize, ‘Hey, this guy is just as talented as I am’. They’ve had to get used to that, compete, and at the same time, accept their role. That’s part of being a great team, and I think that’s what, here lately, you’ve seen this group of guys do.”
After being swept in a doubleheader on the final day of April by Jones College, the Wildcats have won eight of their last nine games leading into the NJCAA Division II World Series.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this year, but it didn’t do anything but bring us tighter and tighter,” sophomore shortstop Wiley Cleland said. “I don’t think we can get any more closer right now.”
They’ve scored 60 runs during their current five-game winning streak, in large part due to hitting 14 home runs. Their season total now sits at 87, which ranks second in Division II behind only Western Oklahoma State’s 103. Freshman second baseman Dexter Jordan (Hattiesburg) leads the Wildcats this year with 18 homers and 65 RBI.
“We got the momentum right now, and we just gotta keep it,” Jordan said. “Right now, we gotta get after it in practice and get the job done there. Then, go up to the World Series with the same approach we had in regionals.”
Pitching-wise, the Wildcats have relied on a sophomore-heavy staff led by Page (Raleigh), Colin Danley (East Central) and Miles Smith (Northeast Jones) all season long.
“It’s something special, and if you’re gonna go [to the world series], you gotta take advantage of it,” Smith said. “This is something we’ve been working for all year.”
Now, it’s finally here. After earning a first round bye in the double elimination tournament, the No. 1 Wildcats (40-12) will open play in Enid on Sunday against either Pasco-Hernando or Lackawana.
“Our big thing now is to turn the page and refocus,” Avalon said. That’s gonna be the message to the team today [Tuesday].
“If their focus is there and their effort is there, this is a very talented team. I think we’re gonna go make some noise, and I think we got a chance to win it.”