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Story by Robert Wilson
Photos by Robert Smith
FLOWOOD – Jackson Prep – ranked No. 15 in the country by Perfect Game – wanted to have plenty of momentum entering the MAIS Class 6A baseball playoffs as the Patriots go after their fifth straight state championship.
Mission accomplished. With an exclamation point.
Prep pounded out 22 hits, including 11 extra base hits, and defeated Jackson Academy 16-3 and 14-3 – both called by the 10-run rule in the fifth inning – Friday night on Senior Night in games two and three of a three-game 6A series to finish the regular season on a big note at Prep.
Prep improved to 27-6 overall and won the 6A regular season title with a 12-3 league record and a No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs. The Patriots received a bye next week in the first round and will meet the winner between No. 4 seed Hartfield Academy and No. 5 seed Parklane in the semifinals in two weeks.
JA dropped to 19-12 overall and 6-9 in league play. The Raiders get the No. 3 seed on a tiebreaker with Hartfield and play No. 6 seed Presbyterian Christian School next week in a three-game series in the first round. JA plays host to PCS (15-16 overall and 4-11 in league play) Tuesday in the first game at JA. JA went 1-2 against PCS during the regular season, winning 9-7 at JA and losing 16-0 in Hattiesburg and 8-7 at JA.
Prep had lost two consecutive games entering Friday – the last game of its three games series against PCS a week ago and to JA Tuesday in the first game – and was missing freshman star Konnor Griffin, the No. 1 player in the country by Perfect Game in his class and who was leading Prep in almost every individual category.
Prep was looking to rebound. The Patriots did with authority. After JA started the top of the first inning with a bang – a 400-foot home run by senior right fielder and Mississippi State football and baseball signee Dakota Jordan (his 15th of the season, third in the country according to MaxPreps) and senior left fielder and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College signee Joseph Ciaccio’s first home run of his high school career, a two-run shot down the right field line – Prep dominated the rest of the night.
Said Prep coach Brent Heavener: “The guys had a chip on their shoulder and wanted to win both games on senior night. We wanted to go out and win every inning.”
Prep came back with five runs in the bottom of the first, highlighted by junior third baseman and Meridian CC commitment Matthew Cochran three-run home run down the left field line. The Patriots added one run in the second, four in the third and six in the fourth. And senior left-hander and Northwest Mississippi CC signee Cy Craig settled down and blanked JA for the next four innings.
“Giving up a three spot in the first inning isn’t ideal, but I never really panicked because I felt like I was making good pitches and they took a few good swings,” said Craig, who improved to 3-2 on the mound, had two singles and scored two runs in the first game and scored three runs in the second game. “Our offense lit up the scoreboard early, so I was able to settle in and pitch with a lead. Those were two huge wins for us, because now we’ve secured the No. 1 seed and control our own destiny. But more than that, I feel like we have all of our confidence back, and we’re playing really well as a team.”
Senior catcher and Louisiana Tech signee Eli Berch led Prep with two doubles, a single, two runs and two runs batted in in the first game. Junior center fielder and Mississippi State commitment Rives Reynolds had a home run and a double and scored two runs. Senior shortstop Owen Abney had a double and four RBIs.
“We never panicked (after the two consecutive losses) and stayed focused during practice,” Berch said. “Our biggest adjustment was working on stringing hits together and not giving up with two outs.”
Junior second baseman Duncan Matthews started off the second game with a leadoff home run. Prep scored two runs in the first inning, 10 in the third (eight of them unearned on three JA errors and four walks) and two in the fourth.
Berch, Reynolds and senior center fielder and Louisiana Monroe signee Trey Bridges had two hits each in the second game. Junior right-hander Graham Busbea allowed only two hits and no runs and walked one with eight strikeouts in four innings to pick up the pitching victory and improve to 3-0.
“I’m disappointed in the way we came out and played,” said JA coach Parker Harris, whose Raiders broke a seven-game losing streak in the first game of the series Tuesday and defeated Prep for the first time since 2019. “I didn’t feel like we competed very hard.”
In addition to the two wins by Prep, Griffin returned for the first time since injuring his hip during the state junior high track meet a week and a half ago. He did not play in the first game Friday (his fourth consecutive game to miss), but he walked as pinch hitter in the fourth inning in the second game.
Griffin is having a tremendous season in his first year as a varsity player for Prep. Prep’s leadoff hitter, Griffin is leading the team with a .474 batting average, .613 on base percentage, .865 slugging percentage, 40 runs scored, 4 triples and 13 stolen bases. Griffin also had 23 runs batted in, 9 doubles, 4 home runs and has made only one error this season. On the mound, Griffin had a 5-1 record, a 0.61 earned run average with 11 walks and 51 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings in nine starts.
“Konnor was cleared to pinch hit and throw bullpen and is getting better each day,” Heavener said. “Having him back will give us a big push in the playoffs.”
Jordan – ranked by Athlon this month as the 30th best high school prospect in the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft – went 3 for 5 with a home run, a double, a single, two runs and two RBIs in the two games Friday. He finished the regular season with a .548 batting average, a .647 on base percentage and a 1.225 slugging percentage – all will be school records if he continues that pace. Jordan already has broken the school record with 15 home runs (Matt Denny had 12 in 2011). Jordan has 51 hits, 44 runs, 49 RBIs, 12 doubles and 3 triples this season. Jordan has a shot at breaking school records in hits (55 by Edwin Smith in 2018), runs (55 by Michael Luley in 2011), RBIs (56 by Denny in 2011) and doubles (16 by Denny in 2011).
Jordan ranks first in Mississippi in hits and RBIs, fifth in Mississippi in batting average and sixth in runs, according to MaxPreps.