By Robert Wilson
The 2022 Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Baseball Player and Coach of the Year – Northwest Rankin’s Nick Monistere and East Rankin Academy’s Steve Renfrow – were dominant as pitchers and led their respective teams to state championships in different eras.
Monistere, a senior right-hander and Southern Miss signee, had an 11-1 record, a 1.53 earned run average with 115 strikeouts and only 22 walks in 73 innings and led Northwest Rankin to a 34-3 record and the MHSAA Class 6A state championship this season.
Renfrow, a crafty left-hander, was named The Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News City Player of the Year and had a 13-0 record, a 0.97 ERA with 123 strikeouts and only 30 walks in 86 2/3 innings and led Wingfield High to a 26-4 record and the MHSAA Class AA state championship in 1979.
While Monistere earned his award for ability on the mound and also being a sure-handed shortstop and superb hitter, Renfrow received his award for his coaching expertise.
Renfrow led East Rankin to an amazing turnaround this season, winning 15 more games than last year, winning a school record 26 games and winning the first MAIS playoff series in school history.
While Renfrow’s story was about a turnaround season, Monistere’s story was about unfinished business.
Monistere and his Cougar teammates almost brought home their school’s first state baseball championship since 2005 last season, but Madison Central defeated Northwest Rankin in the 6A state championship series.
Monistere and Northwest Rankin got to the 6A state title series again this season and got the trophy, defeating Desoto Central in the deciding, third game at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Monistere was instrumental in the series. He was named MVP and had four hits, including two doubles and a triple, and four runs batted in and was the winning pitcher in Game 1 in the three-game series. Monistere doubled off the wall in the left field to score a run for a 2-2 tie in Northwest Rankin’s 3-2 victory in Game 3. He had two RBI triple and a double in the Cougars’ 11-3 loss in Game 2. Monistere allowed six hits and three runs with seven strikeouts in six innings in Northwest Rankin’s 9-4 win in Game 1 despite not pitching a game in 13 days.
Monistere was solid all season long. He was named the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Player of the Week three times during the season, more than any other player. Not only was he dominant on the mound, but his numbers were also equally impressive at the plate. He hit a team-high .425 with 12 doubles, 3 triples, 8 home runs, 33 runs and 36 RBIs. Monistere had a .540 on base percentage and a .820 slugging percentage. He stole 18 bases in 19 attempts.
“Nick had a great senior season,” said second-year Northwest Rankin coach KK Aldridge, who was named the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Coach of the Year last season after leading the Cougars to their first state championship series since 2005 in his first season. “He was no doubt the best dual position player in the state of Mississippi. He’s the type of player that every coach wants to have. Nick possesses so many traits that you cannot teach. He has tremendous work ethic and leadership skills that most high school players just haven’t developed yet. He leads by action and by encouragement.
“Nick was like having another assistant coach out there on the field. When we needed to get the team to get on the same page, I could simply ask Nick to talk with them. He would handle it. Sometimes players need to hear things from other players instead of from coaches. Nick handled that role perfectly, and he was only able to do that because of the level of respect his teammates have for him. The best thing about Nick is that he is the type of player that all little kids look up to and want to be like when they get older and play. Even a greater complement than that is that he is the type of player that parents want their sons to be like both on and off the field.”
Aldridge believes Southern Miss is getting a player who will make a big impact for the Eagles next season as a freshman.
“Southern Miss is getting a great one,” Aldridge said. “I think Nick will flourish even more in Hattiesburg. He can handle being a dual position player, and I believe they will give him the opportunity to do both. Nick could truthfully play any position on the field. He grew up a catcher, he played infield for us, and he has the speed and arm strength to play outfield at the next level. That should be an advantage for him. He will be able to step in and fill a gap anywhere one opens up at Southern Miss.”
Monistere had an 11-1 record with a 1.88 earned run average and had 97 strikeouts and 21 walks in 70 2/3 innings and helped Northwest Rankin to a 27-9 record and a MHSAA Class 6A runner-up finish last season as a junior. He also hit .384 with 32 runs, 30 runs batted in, 11 doubles, 1 triple, 5 home runs and a .666 slugging percentage.
“Last year was a make-or-break year for me,” Monistere said. “Coming off a short sophomore year (due to covid), it was my first real year. I’m thankful for the way it played out. I had a lot of things inside of me motivating me to do even better this year. Thankfully, God put the right people around me to be successful. None of this was possible with Him. I’ve had a lot of coaches, mentors, friends, and my parents (Bridgett and Brian Monistere) who has helped me along the way. Winning the state championship has been a dream of mine since I was playing travel ball, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Playing with my best friends was the best thing ever.”
Monistere was born in Texas but moved to Mississippi when he was two years old. He started playing baseball when he was three years old and also played football (quarterback) until middle school. Monistere has developed into a star baseball prospect with a big upside.
“Nick is a very good baseball player that continues to develop mentally and physically,” said Southern Miss coach Scott Berry, whose Golden Eagles won the Conference USA regular season championship and the NCAA Tournament Hattiesburg Regional and plays Ole Miss this week for a chance to go to the College World Series. “His athleticism gives him the ability to be a two-way player at the next level. We’re excited to have him as a future Golden Eagle.”
Renfrow, like Monistere, was recruited by many colleges and eventually decided on Hinds Community College. But he developed a serious viral infection during the Christmas holidays of his freshmen year, was hospitalized for a month, was in critical condition and lost about 50 pounds. He was unable to play baseball that spring and then he transferred to Belhaven the next fall and played for Coach Jim McLeod for three years. After he graduated from Belhaven, Renfrow became an assistant, then head coach at Clarke College, a two-year school in Newton County, the first of many stops during his coaching career.
Renfrow, who completed his fourth season at East Rankin, had his best year yet in Pelahatchie. After an 11-17 record in 2021, the Patriots bounced back with their record-setting season with a 15-game improvement, finishing 26-9. East Rankin defeated Heritage Academy in three games for its first playoff series victory in school history. East Rankin then lost to 5A state champion Magnolia Heights School in the second round. The Patriots’ other losses were to 6A state champion Jackson Prep, 4A state runner-up Wayne Academy, Simpson Academy (two games), Lamar Academy and MHSAA Class 6A school Warren Central.
Renfrow, who turns 61 on June 18, is familiar with winning. Not only did he win a state title at Wingfield, but he also won a state championship at Jackson Academy in 1992 and at Indianola Academy in 2001 and a state runner-up finish at Indianola in 2002. The Belhaven graduate finished his 24th season as a head coach, 20 in high school. He has coached at Indianola (seven years), JA (five), Clarke College (four), Oak Hill Academy (two) and Gulfport High (two) as well as four at East Rankin. Renfrow as named The Clarion-Ledger Metro Coach of the Year in 1992 and has been a MAIS All-Star coach three times.
Renfrow played and coached semi-pro baseball for the state champion Jackson Bobo’s in his late 20s for several years and was elected to the Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990 and also played in the 25-and-over adult baseball league in Jackson for several years.
Renfrow was the general manager of Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson since 2006 since leaving Oak Hill and before he took the East Rankin job.
East Rankin’s team this year had four players signed to play in college, pitcher Parker Martin (East Central Community College), pitcher Cole Moudy (Holmes CC), pitcher Walker Floyd (Holmes) and catcher Mason Morgan (Mississippi Delta). Martin had a 9-2 record with a 1.59 ERA, Moudy had an 8-3`record with a 2.56 ERA and Floyd had a 7-3 record and a 4.98 ERA. Morgan hit .337 and was a solid defender behind the plate.
Dylan Wesson transferred from Brandon High in late March and led East Rankin with a .404 batting average. Wesson, a junior, is the son of Barry Wesson, who was an All-State player and Clarion-Ledger Metro Player of the Year in 1995 at Brandon High, was drafted out of high school by the Houston Astros and made it to major leagues in 2002 and 2003 with the Astros.
Martin, who also played third base, hit .383, junior shortstop Will Holbrooks hit .381 and Moudy, who also played second base and outfield, hit .356.
“I couldn’t be prouder of a team than I was of this bunch,” said Renfrow, who also coaches softball and teaches driver’s education and elementary physical education at East Rankin. “With 11 seniors, you never know how it’s going to go, but this group gave us tremendous leadership all year.
“My assistant coaches (Jake Pickett and Matt Warren) did a great job in getting our guys in position to be successful. Jake worked hard with our defense and Matt worked hard with our hitters and their approaches at the plate. We continued to improve in these areas all year.”
“Coach Renfrow is most definitely a player’s coach,” East Rankin head of school Robyn Winstead said. “His players know how much he cares for them, and I think that is one reason they are so motivated to play hard. Coach Renfrow gives every player an opportunity to grow and develop. He can get the best out of his players. As a coach, Coach Renfrow is a great example of servant leadership. He always wants what is best for his players and our scool. I am so thankful to have him lead our team. He has done an outstanding job of developing our program and we are excited about the direction in which our program is headed.”
Renfrow has two sons, Brandon, 24, and Cole, 22, who both played junior college baseball at Meridian CC and Holmes CC and are now working in Meridian and Brandon respectively.
“Coach Renfrow always believed in me,” Martin said. “He was a motivator. He gave everyone the extra confidence they needed to compete in a big game.”