By Robert Wilson
After getting 10-run ruled by Presbyterian Christian School Wednesday night to even the MAIS Class 6A best-of-three series, Jackson Prep needed a spark.
Senior catcher and South Alabama signee Duncan Mathews did more than that, he gave Prep an explosion.
Mathews took the first pitch from PCS reliever Cannon Crowder over the left field fence for a grand slam home run to give Prep a five-run lead to key Prep to a 10-0 victory in six innings in the deciding Game 3 Thursday night at Prep’s Patriot Field in Flowood.
The game was scheduled to start at 6 p.m., then was pushed back to 7 p.m. due to the weather. But the rain kept coming Thursday night and the game didn’t start until 9:10 p.m. and ended at 11:30 p.m.
Five-time defending MAIS 6A state champion and No. 1 seed Prep – ranked No. 19 nationally by Perfect Game – improved to 29-4 and rebounded from Wednesday night when PCS broke Prep’s 19-game winning streak. No. 4 seed PCS finished 15-20 with five losses to Prep.
Prep advances to meet No. 2 seed Madison-Ridgeland Academy, 23-10, next week in the best-of-three series for the 6A state championship. Game 1 is scheduled for Tuesday at Prep. Prep has defeated MRA in the championship series for the past three seasons. Prep defeated MRA in all three meetings this regular season.
Mathews, Prep’s leadoff hitter who came into Thursday with a .487 batting average, hit two home runs, his fifth and sixth of the season. In addition to his grand slam, Mathews connected for a two-run home run in the fourth inning.
Senior first baseman and Hinds Community College signee Graham Busbea had three hits. indsHindsMathews, senior centerfielder and Mississippi State signee Rives Reynolds, sophomore third baseman Tre Bryant and junior left fielder Peyton Puckett had two hits each. Prep had 13 hits after having only three hits Wednesday.
Prep freshman pitcher Kevin Roberts, senior pitcher and Hinds Community College signee Ford McDaniel and sophomore pitcher Cole Gideon combined for the five-hit shutout. Roberts allowed four hits with six strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings to improve to 4-0 this season. McDaniel allowed no hits with two strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings and came in with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning and induced a double play to the first batter he faced. Gideon allowed one hit with two strikeouts in one inning.
“I thought our guys did a really good job bouncing back from Wednesday’s loss,” Prep coach Brent Heavener said. “They came out, ready to play and focused about what they had to do. Duncan gave us a huge spark with two home runs and the grand slam came at a big moment in the game and put the momentum on our side for the rest of the game. It just proves that big time players come up and make big time plays. Kevin did a good job on the mound. We got exactly what we needed out of him. He gave up four walks and three hits. He is still young, but he is going to be really good. He also had three walks at the plate tonight. Our guys love this time of year and they wanted to make sure that they took care of business tonight.”
Prep’s star player – junior pitcher-shortstop Konnor Griffin, rated the No. 1 player in the country in the Class of 2024 – was back in the lineup at shortstop, but did not hit. He did not play Wednesday. Heavener held him out as a precautionary measure due to a strain to his non-throwing shoulder. Griffin fielded several ground balls without any issue Thursday. Griffin pitched six shutout innings in Tuesday’s win in Game 1 and is expected to pitch in next week’s series against MRA.
PCS couldn’t capture the magic it had on Wednesday night in the surprising upset win.
“It was a tough night,” said PCS coach Jarrett Hoffpauir, who completed his fifth season a PCS. “We couldn’t seem to get anything going. They made pitches and got big hits when they needed them, and you have to tip your hat to that. I’m proud of our guys for the growth we’ve had throughout the year. We’re losing three key seniors that will be tough to replace.”
PCS should be much improved next season with six underclassmen in Thursday’s lineup, including two freshman, leadoff hitter and centerfielder Jet Henderson and pitcher-first baseman Bankston Walters. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Walters limited the talented Prep lineup to three hits in Wednesday’s 12-2 victory.