By Stan Caldwell
PRCC Sports Information
POPLARVILLE – It will be a well-rested team from Pearl River Community College that will make the trip to Eunice, La., for the NJCAA Region 23 Baseball Tournament.
Whether that's a good thing or bad will be determined when the Wildcats take the field at 3 p.m. Wednesday against Mississippi Gulf Coast in the opening round of the regional.
It will be 10 days between games for PRCC, which earned the break by winning the MACJC State Championship after sweeping Coahoma on May 6. The title gave the Wildcats a bye through the MACJC playoff round.
"(The layoff) is definitely something you worry about, and we actually tried to schedule a game," said PRCC coach Michael Avalon. "The thing you run into this time of the year is everyone is either in their conference tournament, or they're finished with their season."
While the other eight MACJC playoff teams were playing a best-of-three game series Thursday and Friday, the Wildcats played a pair of game-style scrimmages both days to try and keep their competitive edge.
"We tried to make it as close to game conditions as possible," said Avalon. "We divided the guys up into two teams, turned on the scoreboard and let them have at it."
Pearl River went into the final weekend of the season trailing Jones County by one game and needed to sweep Coahoma, while the Bobcats had to lose two at Meridian, for the Wildcats to win the state title. And that's exactly what happened.
"I knew going into the stretch that we were only a game back, and being in this league long enough, you know anything can happen," said Michael Avalon. "The thing I was most proud of was the guys believed, even though it was something they couldn't see right away."
PRCC (37-9) will face a red-hot team in Gulf Coast (34-14), which has won nine of its last 10 games, including a two-game sweep at Northwest Mississippi this past weekend. The Wildcats swept the Bulldogs on March 27, both by a score of 6-2, but that means nothing now.
"That was a long time ago," said Avalon. "They're playing really well right now, so we know we're going to have to bring our A game."
The Wildcats come into the regional averaging 7.76 runs per game, with a team batting average of .326, a team earned-run average of 3.68 and have committed just 55 errors, among the lowest in NJCAA Division II.
Leading the way for Pearl River on the mound will be freshman Shemar Page (Raleigh), who has a 10-1 record, with a 2.15 ERA, 74 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 54 1/3 innings.
"When I was being recruited, the coaches told me they expected a lot out of me," said Page, who has also become a force at the plate, with a .324 batting average.
"When I got here, I wasn't sure what my role was going to be, but once I got here and went to work, it all fell into place."
Sophomore Simon Landry (Ponchatoula, La.) leads a potent Wildcat attack, with a .403 average, 19 home runs and 66 runs-batted-in.
"I feel very confident about our team," said Landry. "The thing about the MACJC is every team is good, so it's quality competition all year, and we feel like we've been challenged."
Defensively, the key was the arrival of sophomore Derek Eberly from Chipola (Fla.) College, which won the NJCAA Division I World Series last season. Eberly stepped into the starting role at shortstop from the beginning and the defense fell into place around him.
"I was playing in a summer league game over here, and the coaches saw me," said Eberly. "It didn't work out at Chipola, so I told myself that I might as well come over here and get a chance to play.
"It's been a whole team effort. Our defense has played really well, and when you've got Mo (Landry) over at first, and he scoops everything and makes us look good."
The winner Wednesday plays the loser of the day's first game between Meridian and Itawamba at 3 p.m. Thursday. The loser faces an elimination game at noon Thursday against the loser of Wednesday's third game, which matches host LSU-Eunice and Hinds.
The regional champion advances to the NJCAA Division II World Series, which begins May 26 at Enid, Okla.
All games in the regional will be livestreamed on athletics.lsue.edu Bengals All Access. Fans can purchase a Tournament Pass for all regional games for $12 or access individual games for $4.95.
Pearl River sophomore pitcher Drake Nightengale delivers a pitch to the plate during a game-style scrimmage Thursday at Dub Herring Park.
NJCAA Region 23 Tournament
At Eunice, La.
Noon – Game 1, Meridian (36-11) vs. Itawamba (32-15); 3 p.m. – Game 2, Pearl River (37-9) vs. Mississippi Gulf Coast (34-14); 6 p.m. – Game 3, LSU-Eunice (50-5) vs. Hinds (28-19).
Noon – Game 4, Meridian-Itawamba loser vs. PRCC-Gulf Coast loser; 3 p.m. – Game 5, PRCC-Gulf Coast winner vs. LSUE-Hinds loser; 6 p.m. – Game 6, Meridian-Itawamba winner vs. LSUE-Hinds winner.
Noon – Game 7, Game 4 winner vs. Game 6 loser; 3 p.m. – Game 8, Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner; 6 p.m. – Game 9, Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 loser.
3 p.m. – Game 10, Game 8 winner vs. Game 9 winner.
1 p.m. – Game 10 winner vs. Game 10 loser (if necessary)