GCHS baseball back in the postseason for second straight year after win at FCAHS
By RUSSELL TURNER
When the Greene County Wildcats hit the road this Friday to take on Richland in the first round of the MHSAA State Baseball Playoffs it will mark the second straight postseason berth for Coach Nick Chatham and his team. That’s a big accomplishment for the GCHS program and something that hasn’t been done in over a decade.
It wasn’t an easy task either, as the Cats had to overcome a couple of lackluster outings down the stretch to seal their playoff berth. Back-to-back region losses to Lawrence County and Forrest County AHS pushed GCHS into a must-win situation on the road Friday night at Brooklyn. Chatham’s team responded and secured the No. 4 seed from Region 7-4A with a 10-7 win over the Aggies.
Despite the recent inconsistency, Chatham likes how his team looks heading into the first round series with the Rangers on Friday. After earning the big win on Friday, GCHS dropped a 5-3 loss to West Jones on the road Monday. The second year skipper says the loss was one of his team’s better performances of the season.
“West Jones is No. 1 5A team in the state and the best team we’ve played in years,” Chatham said. “We finally put a complete game together. Despite the loss, I am very pleased with the way we played.”
“I honestly think we are starting to play our best baseball at the right time. That has been our mindset this year, to keep fighting through the tough spots and get ready to make a run in the playoffs. Hopefully, we can see that through, starting this weekend against Richland.”
Chatham credited several things for the timely turnaround. The first, he says, is the fact that the roster he started the season with was filled with young and/or inexperienced players that now have a full year of experience under their belts. The second factor is the return of junior catcher Noah Mitchell, who played for the first time in over three weeks on Monday after suffering a broken bone in his hand.
“We have a lot of inexperienced players that have started to show their development,” Chatham said. “We struggled with hitting at times with way too many strikeouts. But we’ve improved a lot in that category over the past several games.”
“Getting catcher Noah Mitchell back after three weeks has been huge and he stepped in like he hadn’t missed a beat. Garrett West did a tremendous job for us filling in behind the plate, but getting Noah back in the lineup and taking that load off Garrett is a big plus.”
Dylan Jones, a senior with limited varsity experience prior to this year, is one of the players Chatham points to when discussing the growth of his team. Jones played sparingly throughout the season, but was thrust into the lineup when Mitchell went out with his injury.
“We have had several guys that have stepped up lately, but none bigger than Dylan,” Chatham said. “He has worked so hard and has become a real producer for us in the back end of the lineup.”
“He handles that bat well and can bunt, hit-and-run or whatever we need him to do to get us started. Our junior varsity program has played a key role too. Malachi Graham, for instance, has been developing on the mound all year in the JV games and stepped in against West Jones for his first varsity appearance and was very effective in three innings of work.”
Second basemen Peyton Roberts has had a big sophomore campaign, as has his classmates Drake Henderson and Dylan Miller. In his first season as a varsity letterman, Roberts is third on the team in hits and second in runs scored. Miller is fourth on the team in RBIs and was a big factor in the Cats’ win at FCAHS on Friday, going 2-for-2 at the plate with an RBI. Henderson leads the team in RBIs and is also the Wildcats’ ace on the mound.
“Drake has hit the ball well for us and when he is throwing strikes we feel really good about him on the mound for us,” Chatham said. “Mason Prentiss (senior) has started to swing the bat well and has done a solid job pitching all year. We are not sure how much he will be available on the mound for us in the first round due to some arm troubles.”
“That just means other guys are going to have to step up.”
So far, several have for Chatham. Of course, it won’t hurt if some of the key upperclassmen continue to perform well. Senior Caleb Strickland leads the team with a .349 average and has hit safely in 12 of the Cats’ last 14 games. Senior Tagg Creech has filled an important baserunning role most of the season and leads the team with 15 runs scored. He also came up big at the plate against FCAHS on Friday with two RBIs.
GCHS will need all their firepower in the best-of-three series with the Rangers. The top-seeded team out of Region 6-4A is 21-5 on the season with a Mississippi State signee (Brandon Smith, 3B/P) on its roster.
Despite the gaudy numbers, Chatham doesn’t see his team as an underdog in the matchup, primarily because of the type of competition his team has faced.
“Richland has a good team, but their strength of schedule isn’t what ours is,” Chatham said. “Our record is not what we would like it to be, but our team is battle tested after playing in one of the toughest regions in 4A in the state and against a rugged non-region slate. If we play the way we are capable, we have a great shot at advancing.”
Game one in the series is set for 7 p.m. at Richland. Fans going to the game will find the stadium behind the school, which is located at 1202 Hwy 49 S, Richland, MS 39218.
Game two is set for 7 p.m. Saturday at Scott Bray Field, with game three, if needed, set for 7 p.m. Monday, back at Richland.
The winner of the series will advance to take on the winner of the East Central – Northeast Lauderdale series.