By Robert Wilson      

Jackson Prep senior right-hander and Hinds Community College signee Graham Busbea shined on the biggest stage of MAIS baseball last spring to lead Prep to a win over Madison-Ridgeland Academy in the third and deciding game of the Class 6A state championship series for the Patriots’ fifth consecutive state title.

       Busbea was shining again Thursday night against MRA, on the mound and at the plate to clinch the three game regular season series at MRA in Madison.

       Busbea didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning and no runs until the sixth inning, hit a solo home run, a two-run scoring single, another single and walked and scored a run to lead Prep to a 9-3 victory.
       Prep – ranked No. 30 in the country by Perfect Game – improved to 14-3 overall and 2-0 in conference play and is 8-0 vs. MAIS teams. MRA dropped to 11-6 overall and 0-2 in conference play. The teams play Game 3 Friday at 6 p.m. at Prep in Flowood. Prep is scheduled to start freshman right-hander and West Lauderdale High transfer Kevin Roberts, who has a 1-0 record and a 5.40 earned run average, is rated the No. 9 player in the country in the Class of 2026 by Perfect Game. MRA is scheduled to start senior right-hander and Ole Miss signee Jackson Evers (1-3 record, 4.00 ERA).

       Busbea’s performance a year ago gave Prep its fifth consecutive state title and third straight time beating MRA in the championship series. He allowed only two hits with five strikeouts in four innings and hit a home run to lead Prep to a 12-2 victory in five innings. Busbea’s big game was crucial for Prep after MRA had evened the series at 1-1 with a 12-11 win to end a string of nine consecutive playoff victories by Prep dating back to 2019. Busbea finished with a 6-0 record and hit .386 with 12 doubles and three home runs last season.

       Busbea – a member of the PriorityOne Bank/MSB Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team this season – was clearly the star Thursday. He retired the first six batters in order before allowing a walk to start the third inning. He threw 4 1/3 innings of no-hitter before MRA freshman third baseman Will Bizot legged out an infield hit to deep shortstop. Busbea got into some trouble in the sixth, giving up three runs, but Prep was well in control of the game by that time.

       “I thought Graham did a really good job on the mound, he looked really good last night,” Prep coach Brent Heavener said. “We played good defense behind him. Our guys did a good job coming out in the first inning setting the tone for the game. We took advantage of getting baserunners on and gave Busbea some support.”

       “I just kept that game (the winning championship game from last year) in my mind and how my mind was and tried to replicate it as much as possible with it being a lot of the same hitters,” Busbea said. “It was able to be effective tonight because of my run on my fastball as well as my sinker. Those combined with a frisbee slider. I also talked to my catcher (senior and South Alabama signee Duncan Matthews) and he said it was jumping on them so I guess that as well.”

       Busbea, who hit in the cleanup position Thursday, walked, and scored on senior second baseman and Hinds CC signee Matthew Cochran’s three run home run to key a five run first inning for Prep. Busbea hit a solo home run in the second for a 6-0 Prep lead, singled in the fourth and then hit a two RBI single in the sixth. He bumped his batting average to a .553, three points below Mathews, who leads the team with a .556 average. Busbea improved his pitching record to 3-0 and now is 9-0 for high school career.

       For the second straight game, MRA played without several starters. Evers – a member of the Preseason Elite 11 team – was back as a designated hitter after being sick, but the Patriots were still without four players Tuesday, junior third baseman JW Snopek, junior outfielder and Meridian CC commitment Ethan Mallett and senior pitcher and Pearl River CC signee Brennan Jones and junior pitcher, St. Andrew’s transfer and Meridian CC commitment Ryan Carpenter, all out with injuries.

       Prep’s Konnor Griffin – the No. 1 player in the country in the Class of 2024 – allowed only four hits and one earned run with 10 strikeouts and one walk in six innings in a 9-2 victory over MRA in Game 1 Tuesday night at Prep. Griffin hit a solo home run in the sixth inning and a double in the fourth inning and made an outstanding defensive play from shortstop in the seventh inning after senior pitcher and Hinds Community College signee Ford McDaniel replaced him on the mound.

       Prep took a 4-0 lead in Game 1 and have outscored MRA 9-0 in the first inning in both games. Prep had eight hits in Game 1 and 10 hits in Game 2.

       “This game was a lot like Tuesday’s game, we got behind early,” MRA coach Allen Pavette said. “We gave up a five spot in the first inning, that is tough to do. I was proud of our players. They battled and finished the game. We hit some balls hard right at them and they made the plays. We will regroup and keep battling for Game 3.”

       “We know MRA is a really good team, and we still have a few things to clean up,” Heavener said. “We need to stay sharp and focused today. Every win you can get in our conference is big.”