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GCHS baseball team looking to move past first round in third straight playoff appearance
By RUSSELL TURNER
The Greene County High School baseball team is hovering around .500 in both its overall record and in region play. But, the Wildcats capped off their region schedule with three straight wins to earn a No. 3 seed heading into the playoffs later this week.
Most importantly, the Cats appear to be playing their best baseball of the season at just the right time, which Coach Nick Chatham believes could push his team past East Central when the MHSAA Playoffs get underway on Friday.
“We have had our ups and downs this season, but I definitely feel like we are playing our best baseball right now,” Chatham said Monday at the school. “We’re prepared. We’ve played a tough schedule, including two nationally-ranked teams, so I feel really good about it.”
Making it to this point has been no easy ride. Along with a few setbacks, such as injuries to key players, the Wildcats play in one of the toughest regions in the state. But, they have shown they can compete with the best of the best, claiming huge wins over highly-touted Sumrall, as well as the defending 4A State Champions from Vancleave.
“I am extremely happy to come out of our region as the No. 3 seed,” Chatham said. “The top five teams in our region have a combined 75-36 record on the year, and one of those teams (Lawrence County) isn’t going to be in the playoffs.”
“Those are pretty impressive numbers.”
Making the playoffs is nothing new to Chatham and his Wildcats. In fact, this marks the third consecutive year GCHS has run the gauntlet that is Region 7-4A to earn a trip to the postseason. It is the first time a Greene County team has done that since 2004-2006, which is a nice accomplishment, but neither of Chatham’s past two teams have made it out of the first round. Chatham thinks this squad can change that trend.
To do so, the Wildcats will have to get past a Hornets team that finished last season as the 4A south state runner’s up and lost just one game on their region schedule this year. East Central was 15-8 on the season going into a non-region matchup with Pascagoula on Tuesday. One of those losses came at the hands of GCHS, who claimed a 5-2 win at Hurley on March 9.
That win came on a Saturday after the Hornets had split a tough non-region series with Long Beach. Neither team put their ace on the mound that day, but both teams came to win and GCHS was the team that came out on top. Friday’s playoff opener will be under different circumstances, but Chatham said that 5-2 victory a little over a month ago was important.
“Getting that win gives us the confidence to know we can definitely compete with them and win this series,” Chatham said. “We beat them with three starters out due to illness and held their offense to just three runs.”
“Our offense over the past couple of weeks has finally gotten to where I thought we could be. We’re averaging two errors per game on defense, but that’s okay if we have come out and throw strikes. If we can put those things together, I feel good about our chances.
Hornets led by upperclassmen
Much like GCHS, East Central is a senior-laden team with 11 total upperclassmen on the roster, including four juniors. Leading the way are seniors Branson Davis, Jerred Daughdrill, Avery White and Cameron Gray. Davis (#24) is the team’s ace on the mound and the pitcher the
Cats will likely face Friday night in the series opener. He is 6-0 in eight appearances with a sub-zero ERA. He doesn’t give up many free bases and has a team-high 59 strikeouts to his credit, compared to just seven walks. He also is one of the top offensive producers with a .304 batting average.
White (#28) leads the team with 15 RBIs and 10 runs scored. He is also the number two guy in the Hornets pitching rotation with a 5-2 record, 1.53 ERA and 51 strikeouts, compared to 16 walks. Daugdrill (#18) plays first base and has a .339 batting average with 14 RBIs. Gray (#3) is an anchor in the East Central outfield and is a top producer on offense with 10 RBIs and 17 runs scored.
Wildcat fans encouraged to travel to hit the road with team, then pack the house at Scott Bray Field
Chatham said one of the big keys for his team has been fan support. He’s hoping that continues this weekend on the road, and especially at home.
“The crowds have been great recently and the team feeds off that energy,” Chatham said. “I really would love to have a huge crowd come out and support these kids.”
“When our fans show up like that it creates a really good atmosphere.”
Game times for the best-of-three series are set for 6 p.m. Friday night at Hurley and 7 p.m. Saturday at Greene County’s Scott Bray Field. Game three, if needed, will be played Monday at 6 p.m. at East Central’s complex.
The winner of the series will advance to play either Florence (top seed out of Region 6-4A) or Newton County (No. 4 seed out of Region 5-4A).
Ticket prices for the games will be $6. Per Mississippi High School Activities Association policies no local or district passes will be accepted for admission into the games. MHSAA State Passes will be accepted.